ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — For the first time, Newfoundland and Labrador has invoked emergency health measures under its Public Health Protection and Promotion Act 2018, to enforce compliance with recommendations from the province’s chief medical officer (CMO).
Not only are large gatherings discouraged, they’re now illegal.
“This is an unprecedented time,” Health Minister John Haggie told reporters Wednesday afternoon during a briefing on the government’s COVID-19 measures.
The businesses now required to close by law are gyms, fitness facilities, bars, cinemas, performance spaces and arenas.
“These businesses are unable to adequately meet the requirements of social distancing,” CMO Janice Fitzgerald told reporters.
Restaurants that are able to accommodate social distancing can still operate at 50 per cent capacity. Takeout and delivery are still permitted.
Gatherings of more than 50 people are not allowed. Gatherings of less than 50 people should be avoided if social distancing is not possible.
All travellers arriving directly or indirectly from international travel must self-isolate. That means staying home and restricting visitors.
“I want to reassure the public that these measures are put in place not because the situation has deteriorated,” said Fitzgerald. “But after careful consideration, we feel this is the best way to protect the health of our population and reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.”
Penalties for individuals who violate these orders are a $500-$2,500 fine, a prison sentence of less than six months or a combination of the two.
Corporations face $5,000-$50,000 fines, and directors can also be fined as individuals.
“These are among the most severe of any public health legislation in Canada,” Haggie said.
Haggie said the moves were necessary after the government found out through social media and other sources that large events such as bingo were taking place as recently as Tuesday night.
“These (events), in the interest of the health of all of us, must cease,” he said.
There are currently three presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the province. They are all located in the Labrador-Grenfell health region and are close contacts of each other.
More than 500 people in the province have been tested for the virus so far.
Meanwhile, Premier Dwight Ball said he welcomes a federal relief package announced Wednesday that will pump billions into provinces and territories that are reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic that’s sweeping the globe.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 is having a significant impact on our health-care system and our economy,” he said at the news briefing.
Of the $82 billion earmarked for COVID-19 relief, $27 billion will come as direct support for workers and businesses. The rest is allocated to tax payment deferrals.
Starting in April, self-employed workers can received up to $900 biweekly for 15 weeks if they are sick, quarantined, self-isolating or carrying caretaker duties because of COVID-19.
Businesses and employees are eligible for a 10 per cent subsidy for three months up to a cap each of $25,000 and $1,375, respectively.
Taxpayers can now file taxes as late as June 1, and defer payments until August.
Ball and his fellow premiers had a teleconference with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland earlier in the day.
“My message to the federal government is it’s urgent to get this money moving,” he said.