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Empty downtown streets in Calgary are seen on March 18, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta Health Services has received thousands of complaints related to COVID-19 scofflaws, but the province’s Chief Health Officer says compliance has been high and there has been only a handful of cases where businesses were ordered closed.

The province declared a public-health emergency last month designed to curb the spread of COVID-19, expanding orders that require non-essential businesses to close, prohibit restaurants from offering dine-in services and restrict public gatherings. There is also mandatory self-isolation for returning travellers and other measures designed to compel people to practise physical distancing.

AHS, which is in charge of enforcing health regulations including the shutdown orders, received about 8,500 complaints or service requests in the first two weeks of April about businesses and groups of people not following those rules. Of the approximately 5,600 complaints filed online, about 530 were related to people failing to comply with self-isolation requirements.

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The province has issued 13 orders for businesses to comply with the public-health measures, but Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical Officer, says over all, people are following the rules.

“I think the vast majority of businesses are following the requirements, because I think it’s really clear that this is something that will be successful if we work together," she said Thursday.

"But [in] those odd circumstances where someone is not following the requirements, the Alberta Health Services teams are out following up on complaints and making sure that enforcement is happening with respect to businesses that are not following the rules.”

AHS said in a statement that when it receives a complaint, health inspectors try education first. If that doesn’t work, police or peace officers are able to issue $1,000 fines. Courts are permitted to impose fines of up to $500,000 for serious violations.

Some policing agencies in the province said they have given out very few tickets for non-compliance, or don’t have specific data on the amount of violations and their outcomes.

Earlier this month, RCMP issued six tickets to Cochrane residents, all of which were later quashed. In Calgary, seven people were ticketed or charged for non-compliance with the Public Health Act.

A week ago, the Calgary Police Service charged an individual with mischief. The force alleges the person licked their hands and touched items in a pharmacy after an altercation.

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Orders posted to the AHS website, largely in the Calgary area, focus on gyms and restaurants. Dr. Hinshaw raised the issue of private gyms last week.

One of those orders targeted the Strength Edge on April 6.

Andrew Bolinger, who runs the gym, described it as a private, locked facility with keys only handed out to trusted members. He explained that when COVID-19 started to spread widely, he restricted attendance to current members, 75 per cent of whom chose not to attend. He maintains the risk inside was low.

“I didn’t specifically change the locks, as I tried to respect the rights of people to take care of their health if they required the facility to do that, particularly those who suffer from severe depression,” Mr. Bolinger said in an e-mail.

He added that there were few people at the same time and supplies were available to sanitize equipment. Mr. Bolinger said that when public-health orders were imposed in March, he was busy at his day job and was not focused on news coverage about the new virus.

There are still some businesses that are putting pressure on the province to allow them to open, notably golf courses. The Alberta chapter of National Allied Golf Associations has been lobbying the Alberta government to allow golf courses to open, as they are permitted to in neighbouring B.C.

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The Long Shotz Driving Range near Edmonton posted on its website that it planned to open on Friday. The company’s owner, Rob Toshack, said he was initially told driving ranges were included along with golf courses. He said he was told on Thursday that he can’t open, so he won’t. AHS did not respond to questions about Long Shotz.

Mr. Toshack said he believes golf can be done safely. “We make a living off this business and we’re trying to change the mentality,” Mr. Toshack said. “In terms of safe distancing and avoiding spreading the disease, golf courses are easy to do. Driving ranges are the same.”​

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