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It’s been repeated daily that following the special measures currently in place in the province will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 — things like wearing a mask and following proper sanitization procedures.
But almost daily there are examples of people and businesses not following the measures, and many of them are being reported to the police.
On Wednesday morning, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's Corner Brook detachment’s overnight report said it had received 17 such reports on Tuesday.
Const. James Cadigan, the RNC’s media relations officer in St. John’s, said later that had been a bit of a misrepresentation, as the listed complaints were actually received over about a two-week period leading up to Tuesday.
Many of the matters have been resolved, while some are still being investigated, he said.
“We’re taking complaints and touching base with the persons that are named or involved, any particular identified persons,” said Cadigan.
The focus of police intervention is on education, Cadigan said, and officers have information packages to share with those they speak with about what is required of the community to mitigate the risk.
Overall, he said officers have seen overwhelming compliance when they are out in the communities that they police.
“It’s very evident to us as a police service that our community wants to stay safe, healthy. It’s been uplifting, in a sense, through this difficult time to see how much of a positive response we’ve received in the community.”
Cadigan said the opportunity is there to make a complaint because of a need for accountability.
“We have to be prepared to intervene,” he said.
“There’s no denying that the community is scared and there is a sense of concern for our own personal health and safety and that of our families and friends. And you’re going to see that come out in the community.”
Cadigan said the RNC, which has a special unit devoted to COVID-19 enforcement, is in consultation with Public Health on any concerns it has, and if something needs to go for further investigation, it will go to the team to follow up.
It’s possible the approach of educating people could change to charges being laid under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act.
That is especially likely in cases of repeat violations.
“Then you have a total disregard for the safety and health of our community,” said Cadigan.
“It’s like we’ve said from the start, if you are going to put our community at risk and show that intent to cause harm, we are going to take action.”
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, was asked about the number of complaints received by the RNC in Corner Brook during Wednesday afternoon’s COVID-19 update and said it is concerning that people may not believe that the risk is what it is.
“Unfortunately, there are some people who either feel they don’t need to follow the rules or don’t have to, or perhaps there are some who are not aware, but I think for the most part there’s a lot that has been done already to help people understand what needs to be done.” — Dr. Janice Fitzgerald
She said there is a process in place if people aren’t following the rules, which can be reported through a public report form, and that process has to be followed.
“But I would urge everybody to think about what we’re doing here, what we’re trying to do," Fitzgerald said.
“We’re trying to make sure that people stay safe. We want to keep people from getting sick with COVID, from staying out of the hospital.”
She said it’s important for people to follow the recommendations to keep their bubble as small as they can, keep their contacts as low as possible, wear a mask and keep their distance from other people — all things that have been recommended at Alert Level 5.
Asked if there has been any thought to bringing in additional measures to aid with enforcement, Fitzgerald said the penalties are as outlined, unless the legislation changes, and the amount of education that has been done has been quite significant.
“I think people know what they have to do,” she said, adding there is not a lot more that can be said.
“Unfortunately, there are some people who either feel they don’t need to follow the rules or don’t have to, or perhaps there are some who are not aware, but I think for the most part there’s a lot that has been done already to help people understand what needs to be done.”
Diane Crocker reports on west coast news.