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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister leaves a press conference in Ottawa on Sept. 18, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Just days after floating the idea of a COVID-19 curfew and asking Manitobans to weigh in using an online government survey, Premier Brian Pallister has backed away from the idea.

“We’re not going to proceed with a curfew at this time,” Mr. Pallister said. “We’ve seen curfews elsewhere, in other parts of the world. We’ve seen them combined with massive lockdowns of the economy. The World Health Organization [and] many other medical experts have said, there are real dangers in that approach.”

The announcement came Thursday, moments after provincial health officials announced 427 new COVID-19 cases – including 265 in Winnipeg – and four additional deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities in the province to 91. Three Winnipeg hospitals are currently battling outbreaks and the Red Cross has been brought in to assist the city’s the worst-hit long-term care homes.

The province said it will allocate $2.5-million for increased enforcement of existing COVID-19 restrictions and has created a digital advertising campaign targeting younger adults, which will run on social-media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok for the next six weeks. This is the third time that Mr. Pallister has said that the province will increase enforcement efforts.

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A number of organizations, including the RCMP, municipal police forces, the Health Protection Unit and the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority, have been given the task of responding to complaints and issuing fines. Approximately 160 fines have been issued so far, in response to roughly 12,000 complaints.

Constable Rob Carver of the Winnipeg Police Service said “the time for education has passed” and that the service would be bringing that message home by issuing fines. A short time after making that statement, members of the Winnipeg Police Service broke up a gathering of conspiracy theorists in front of Winnipeg City Hall, issuing at least one $1,296 ticket.

A Probe Research poll released this week found that “a majority of Manitobans agree that their fellow citizens are not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” but some are raising red flags about increased enforcement efforts.

“There is no doubt in my mind that enforcement will disproportionally impact socioeconomically marginalized populations,” said David Ireland, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of law.

“You can’t handcuff COVID,” said Paula Ethans, a Winnipeg lawyer and an organizer with Winnipeg Police Cause Harm. “COVID-19 is a public-health issue, not a police issue; the police have no role to play in this.”

While the organization was pleased that the government won’t be imposing a COVID-19 curfew, she said “the decision to fund enforcement rather than fund public-health measures” is disappointing.

Some businesses were also relieved to hear that curfews would not be imposed. With Winnipeg listed as red on the province’s pandemic response system, indoor dining is no longer an option. Now, delivery is all that’s keeping some businesses, such as Harjit Joda’s family establishment – ClubHouse Pizza, in the city’s South Osborne neighbourhood – up and running.

“If there had been a curfew, we would have said, okay, and taken our drivers off the road,” Mr. Joda said. “But, it does make it hard for us.”

Loren Remillard, president and CEO of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said the province’s decision not to move forward with a curfew removes one concern for business, but that many other concerns remain.

“What we haven’t seen from government is a plan for the continuity of business and that is really, fundamentally, what we need more than anything else,” Mr. Remillard said. “We need a plan that is scalable and adaptable to the depth and length of the crisis.”

However, he said increased enforcement efforts will assist businesses to the extent that it reduces the need for owners and employees to attempt to enforce physical distancing and masking regulations. “When the onus was on business, in the early days, to be the enforcer of public-health orders, it really put business in an incredibly awkward position,” Mr. Remillard said.

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