After a summer of informing people about COVID-19 rules, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer says it's time for a stricter approach.
"The time for education is now mostly over. Any egregious non-compliance will and should be met through fines and other measures," Dr. Saqib Shahab said at a news conference Thursday.
Shahab also asked people to flag infractions by others.
"There's [a] public health safety number. So, you know, it is important to report noncompliance," he said.
Shahab's comments came as the province reported 299 new cases of the virus, Saskatchewan's third highest daily bump. It also came as officials at the Saskatchewan Health Authority warned of emergency rooms that are nearing their full capacity and the need for people to follow public health guidelines.
Since the pandemic began, the province has favoured educating people on the rules, instead of immediately issuing fines. Individuals can face fines of up to $2,000 (not counting a victim surcharge) for failing to self-isolate or breaking gathering limit rules. For corporations, the fine can reach $10,000 (also not including a victim surcharge).
"Where we've seen some of this stuff happen over the summer, typically, we start with an educational approach," said Scott Livingstone, the health authority's CEO, at the same news conference.
What health officials do when told of an event
Shahab and Livingstone made the remarks in response to questions about whether the increased challenge of contract tracing might be causing the virus to spread and a report of a planned large event in Saskatchewan this weekend.
"If we're made aware of a large event, typically public health inspectors would come out and have a conversations with the organizers about what they're doing and how what they're doing or planning would fit or not fit current public health orders," Livingstone said.
"If it was obvious that the event was not meeting current public health orders, the event organizers would be advised as such and there would be recommendations from public health inspectors to not go ahead with that event."
If the event went ahead and was found to have broken the rules, "there are remedies with respect to fines," Livingstone said.
42 charges under public health act
The province has occasionally publicly announced some instances of fining, particularly in September and October.
The recipients varied from a Saskatoon home owner who hosted a private gathering with 47 people when the limit for private meetings was 30 (it's now five), to the pastor of a gospel outreach centre in Prince Albert where singers went unmasked. The gospel centre was cited as a multi-jurisdictional superspreader.
Between March 1 and Oct. 31, RCMP members in Saskatchewan received a total of 2,912 COVID-related calls for service — an average of 364 calls a month.
The vast majority of the calls were resolved "by educating members of the public of the potential health and enforcement consequences that can result from non-compliance with the public health order," an RCMP spokesperson said Friday.
However, 42 charges for summary violations were issued under the province's public health act, including for people who held large gatherings or did not self-isolate.
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