Penalties await health-order scofflaws

Now is the time to stay home.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2020 (1032 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Now is the time to stay home.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin has clearly enunciated this phrase multiple times per day, every day, for weeks. It’s his go-to catchphrase. His medical-advice mantra.

Some Manitobans, however, seem confused about what it means. People are continuing to gather in parks, especially as the weather warms. They are meeting neighbours on the sidewalk. Kids are riding bikes with friends. Some families, presumably, have considered gathering for holiday celebrations this week.

John Woods / The Canadian Press Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin has clearly said to stay home multiple times per day, every day, for weeks.

“Stay home” seems like a simple, straightforward directive. But for a certain segment of the population, the rules for pandemic precaution aren’t sufficiently black-and-white. Some confusion may be caused by mixed messaging; Manitobans have been told to stay home and not to gather with people outside of their households — but they’ve also been told public and private gatherings have been restricted to no more than 10 people.

On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman held a joint briefing to outline new enforcement measures that will be applied to the small number of Manitobans who continue to ignore public-health directives.

“Sadly, there is a small minority of people who are not doing their part,” Mr. Pallister said. “At the end of the day, it is apparent that enforcement is needed as well.”

Under the banner of “Operation Safe Apart,” a multi-tiered enforcement approach will be implemented to enforce orders — including public education, written warnings and, if necessary, ticketing and arrest. Effective immediately, fines for breaching emergency orders will be set at $486 for individuals and $2,542 for businesses.

Effective this weekend, “community service ambassadors” — redeployed members of the city’s community-services staff — will be patrolling public places to provide education about physical-distancing orders. If their advice is ignored, bylaw officers and police will be dispatched to issue written warnings or tickets, or make arrests if necessary.

It’s a start. But perhaps Manitoba could also look to New Zealand, which last month imposed a strict, four-week lockdown — strict, meaning everyone except essential workers must stay home at all times, save for going out for essentials and walking for exercise in their own neighbourhood, alone preferably or with a person they live with, without stopping and chatting. No beaches. No parks. No activities that may require search-and-rescue services. All places where the public can congregate are closed. All gatherings are prohibited.

New Zealand’s swift and decisive lockdown has yielded positive results. The number of new daily cases is trending downward. Only one person has died.

If Manitobans want to avoid a complete lockdown, or even stricter government enforcement of physical-distancing guidelines, they need to do a better job policing themselves. Now is not only the time to stay home, it’s the time for discipline and sacrifice for the greater good. Now is the time to take physical distancing seriously.

No one is saying this isn’t challenging. Our day-to-day lives have been disrupted. No one is special here: everyone misses their family and friends, everyone feels disappointed and stir-crazy. Even if one is lucky enough to stay healthy, no one is exempt from a pandemic. But a little bit of pain now will pay off in the long run. The more compliant Manitobans are now, the sooner we will be able to return to something resembling normalcy.

Like the doctor says, now is the time for everyone who can to stay home. And for those who won’t, now is the time for a tax on the selfish.

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