Friday, 03 April, 2020

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British Columbians now face $25K fine, jail if they ignore public health orders over COVID-19 | CBC News


  • People who ignored public health orders can now be jailed or fined upward of $25,000.
  • Reselling essential supplies like food and cleaning material is now prohibited. 
  • The province is intervening to ensure the supply of food and medical supplies is secure.
  • Municipal states of emergency have been suspended.

The government of B.C. has issued a number of emergency orders to protect the province's supply of food and goods, stop people from hoarding of medical supplies and ensure the public follows isolation rules meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Community bylaw officers now have the power to enforce the social distancing orders issued by B.C.'s provincial health officer, including the orders to stay back from others in public and limit the size of gatherings.

People who ignore the orders from Dr. Bonnie Henry could be fined upwards of $25,000 or jailed.

"This is not a drill," said Premier John Horgan. "The orders — they are not suggestions or good advice. They are the law."

A man walks through a closed food court at the Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited in B.C. Henry has repeatedly told the public to stay at least two metres away next person while outdoors and essential trips to place like grocery stores and pharmacies. Businesses that cannot keep groups apart have been ordered to close.

On Thursday, B.C. announced it has established a new provincial supply chain co-ordination unit to take a more active role in the distribution of goods and services. Retailers and suppliers must now report to the unit on inventory of critical supplies, including medical supplies for frontline workers.

The province is going to work with retailers to restrict the amount of certain supplies shoppers can buy at one time.

"This will help with hoarding at grocery stores and shameful resale of medical supplies," said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

Reselling food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning products and other essential supplies is now banned across the province under the Emergency Program Act. The province said people who ignore the ban can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for one year, or both.

Nitrile gloves and protective items are pictured at Costco in downtown Vancouver on March 12. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Henry declared a public health emergency on March 17, giving herself the power to issue verbal orders that are immediately enforceable.

Many across the province had called for a lockdown, similar to that in Ontario, ahead of Thursday's announcement. The premier said B.C. isn't taking that step at this time, but that could change if people do not listen to public health orders.

"Dr. Henry has been abundantly clear: If you don't need to be out, stay home," said the premier.

"I think people are looking for terminology. If you want to use lockdown, fair enough," he continued.

"Today we believe we are on the right track ... if we need to do more, we will."

Local states of emergency suspended

The province also repealed any local states of emergency in effect in B.C. to ensure a top-down, co-ordinated response to the pandemic from the provincial level. The City of Vancouver is the sole exception because it has its own Charter.

"We want to reduce anxiety, we want to increase public confidence, and the best way to do that is to have a universal approach," Horgan said.

"It's our view that the province is best placed [to] take the lead on these issues."

The province declared a state of emergency on March 18, giving itself new powers to use emergency tools if necessary to lessen the impact of the crisis without requiring legislative approval.

Several municipalities across B.C. passed their own, local states of emergency within days. Many communities gave slightly different messages and made slightly different rules, which led to provincial concern about a "patchwork" of local regulations from 162 separate municipalities coming into play.

Mayors were warned during a conference call Monday that a centralized approach was coming.

On Thursday, the government also revealed officials are scouting for public facilities, such as community centres, that could be used for pandemic responses like self-isolation, testing, medical care and warehousing.

"These are unprecedented measures for unprecedented times," said Farnworth.

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