HALIFAX — While some premiers in Atlantic Canada warn that people will be fined for failing to comply with health directives aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, police and health officials appear to be taking a go-slow approach.
As the number of confirmed cases continued to climb in Nova Scotia on Tuesday, the province's two biggest police forces confirmed they had not issued any fines since a state of emergency was declared on Sunday.
RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said the force is being cautious.
"The goal here is to get education out there, but if we do encounter somebody who is blatantly ignoring what they are being asked to do, enforcement may certainly be an option," she told The Canadian Press.
Clarke said police have already offered stern warnings to people ignoring the new rules about social distancing and self-isolation.
Under the province's Health Protection Act, people are now prohibited from gathering in groups larger than five. Individuals caught violating the limit face a $1,000 fine, and businesses allowing large groups to gather face a $7,500 fine.
Const. John MacLeod, a spokesman for Halifax Regional Police, said the force is using a "combination of education and enforcement as necessary."
"We know that most citizens are doing what they should to protect themselves and others from the COVID-19 virus," MacLeod said.
As of Tuesday, Nova Scotia had reported 51 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus — 10 more than Monday.
As with previously reported cases, the new ones are travel-related or connected to earlier cases — none of them is from transmission of the virus within the community.
Premier Stephen McNeil said he believes the province's edicts on Sunday provided clarity and, as a result, people are following the rules.
"If they stop co-operating they can fully expect law enforcement to execute the law and fine them," the premier said Tuesday.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said the new restrictions are in anticipation of the eventual community spread of the virus.
In Prince Edward Island, where the number of confirmed cases held steady at three, the province's chief medical officer of health was also asked about enforcement measures.
Dr. Heather Morrison said she and other health officials have talked to various police services about how to handle complaints of non-compliance with emergency health directives.
Again, the emphasis was on education, not law and order.
"It's a balanced use of authority and the first call is about making sure people understand what they're supposed to do — and then, maybe, having to have the police involved in a warning," said Morrison.
"There's been only one situation that was brought to my attention. There was a little reluctance, but a subsequent firm-voice conversation happened, and that was resolved."
On Monday, the P.E.I. government announced new enforcement measures to prevent the spread of the illness. Justice Minister Bloyce Thompson said there would be a fine of $1,000 for a first offence, $2,000 for a second offence and $10,000 for any subsequent offences.
The province relaxed one restriction Tuesday, announcing a provincially run liquor store in Charlottetown would be allowed to reopen after all stores were closed last week to slow the spread of the virus.
Transportation Minister Steven Myers said the store would open with limited hours and strict measures to enforce social distancing. "This is to address the needs of Islanders at risk of alcohol withdrawal symptoms," Myers said.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, where 11 additional presumptive cases were reported Tuesday, the province confirmed a public reporting system introduced on the weekend had received 356 complaints from people reporting suspected contraventions of health directives.
Health Minister John Haggie said meetings are planned with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP to determine what actions need to be taken.
"We don't want to use this," Haggie said, referring to possible new enforcement tools. "This is not who we are."
Individuals caught breaching health orders in Newfoundland and Labrador could be fined between $500 and $2,500 and could face jail sentences of up to six months. Possible fines for corporations range from $5,000 to $50,000.
Premier Dwight Ball scolded residents who have defied orders under the province's public health emergency.
"What we're seeing here today is a result of people going in a public setting and spreading COVID-19," he said. "You are threatening the lives of loved ones and your own life."
With the new presumptive cases, Newfoundland and Labrador now has a total of 35 presumptive and confirmed cases.
In New Brunswick, RCMP said they have been getting calls about people not adhering to the public health orders — but no one has been penalized.
Premier Blaine Higgs said he's still hearing reports of people and businesses defying provincial orders.
"We heard about specific businesses that have continued to operate without ensuring social distancing practices ... (and) we also received reports of people returning to New Brunswick from away and not self-isolating," he said.
"Everyone who is in violation of the emergency declaration risks being charged."
Health officials in New Brunswick reported one new case of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The province now has 18 confirmed cases.
The latest case is a young woman from southeastern New Brunswick who recently returned from international travel.
Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the majority of those who contract the virus recover. However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe.
— With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax, Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's, N.L., and Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2020.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press