British Columbia confirmed hundreds of new COVID-19 infections on the weekend, with younger adults driving a surge to a record high 913 active cases across the province.
On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry announced 269 new infections in the past three days, with 18 people in hospital, five of whom are in intensive care. A resident of a long-term care home south of Vancouver also died on the weekend.
Across B.C. a number of young adults have failed to heed repeated messaging about the risk of partying close together indoors. Dr. Henry praised police efforts in several cities on the weekend to crack down on young partiers spreading the virus. Police are levying new $2,000 fines against bar owners and hosts of house parties who deliberately disobey physical-distancing rules on their properties.
“This is an unfortunate but necessary step to make sure that [with] those small number of people who are breaking the rules, despite being warned, despite putting people at risk ... that we have some tools that we can use to support enforcement,” she said. “It is the right thing to do and it’s being used in the right way, very judiciously.”
Victoria police say they issued a $2,300 fine to a party host who allegedly failed to follow COVID-19 provincial health guidelines when having up to 60 people over to their suite at a downtown apartment building on Friday night. The next night, police investigated another noise complaint at the one-bedroom suite and found 15 people partying, according to a news release. Police said everyone agreed to leave except one guest, who was arrested for obstructing an officer and fined $200 for abusive or belligerent behaviour under a provincial coronavirus ticketing regime announced last Friday.
The new system enables B.C.‘s police and other agents, such as conservation officers as well as liquor, cannabis and gambling inspectors, to issue $200 tickets to anyone who promotes events that break the pandemic rules or refuses to leave such a party. Enforcement of the complaints-driven system will focus primarily on indoor partying, where the risk of the novel coronavirus being transmitted is substantially higher.
In Surrey, RCMP fined one restaurant, an after-hours club and two banquet halls for cramming too many people inside on the weekend. Mounties said they had to prioritize traffic safety when policing a massive street party that erupted at a famous intersection after the Canucks won their playoffs series against the St. Louis Blues.
Richmond RCMP said they visited a number of private parties on the weekend to “educate” people about the distancing and sanitation guidelines rather than issue the new penalties. However, the owner of a sports complex was fined $2,000 for having too many people inside on Saturday night.
In Vancouver, the 311 phone line saw 160 reports of people or businesses breaking the rules on the weekend, according to an official spokesperson for the city. Bylaw officers and park rangers are educating people and businesses about the rules while the police are now being called to deal with repeat offenders, the city said in an e-mailed statement.
Meanwhile, six of the nine public spaces currently linked to outbreaks by the Vancouver Coastal Health authority are downtown bars or clubs.
Owners say they overhauled the layouts of their establishments and are capably enforcing physical-distancing rules in the two months since B.C. allowed them to welcome tables of up to six guests – some of whom inevitably end up breaking the rules after drinking.
Dr. Henry said Monday that she doesn’t want to order the nightlife sector shut down over transmission fears, in part, because it would drive a greater number of young people into riskier indoor private parties.
“The vast majority of bars, restaurants and clubs are doing the right thing and they’re doing it effectively and safely,” she said.
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