Manitoba implements $298 fine for not wearing masks in indoor public areas

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WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has instituted a new $298 fine for people who do not wear masks in indoor public places.

The penalty is the latest enforcement measure the province is trying in an attempt to quell the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in Canada. It also follows an anti-mask rally last weekend in Steinbach, southeast of Winnipeg.

"We need Manitobans to do their part," chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Wednesday.

Manitoba has incrementally added restrictions since COVID-19 numbers started spiking in late summer. Initially, the sizes of allowable public gatherings were lowered, and bars and restaurants were ordered to close early in the Winnipeg region.

Last week, bars and restaurants across Manitoba were ordered to close except for delivery and takeout, and many non-essential retail stores were told to restrict themselves to curbside pickup and online shopping.

Still, the case count has continued to climb. Health officials reported 399 new cases Wednesday and 11 new deaths. The rate of people testing positive has jumped to 14.2 per cent.

"We were anticipating better numbers, and that's why we have to incrementally keep increasing (the restrictions)," Roussin said.

The new fine is in addition to other fines the province announced earlier. Businesses that open when they are not allowed to, or that don't follow capacity limits, can be fined $5,000. People who fail to self-isolate when ordered, or who gather in groups larger than five, can be fined $1,296.

This week, Premier Brian Pallister announced a contract with a private security firm that will see its employees added to the array of police, conservation officers and others who can hand out fines and lay charges.

Pallister and Roussin have said the next step may be to add to the list of stores that must remain closed, in order to cut down on crowded shopping centres and big-box stores.

"We're looking at ways of perhaps having the orders even more clear (as) to what exactly is critical and what should be sold," Roussin said Wednesday.

"We're reviewing some options right now."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press