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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: If only the message was as easily spread

Sgt. Jason Blacquiere
Sgt. Jason Blacquiere of Summerside Police Services said last week a Summerside man was charged under the Public Health Act for failing to comply with an order of the chief public health officer during COVID-19. Police in Atlantic Canada are taking the rules seriously, and enforcing them. — Guardian file photo

You have to ask: why aren’t people getting the point?

In Nova Scotia, the fines are hefty: $697.50 for people failing to properly self-distance, and up to $7,500 for businesses that ignore health protection COVID-19 rules. Already, 55 tickets have been written up province-wide, with most of those being handed out in Halifax, and the bulk of them for continuing to use areas closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

In St. John’s, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has set up a special unit to ensure compliance with pandemic guidelines. RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador have received more than 120 reports of violations of self-isolation rules. In Corner Brook, a woman was arrested and charged twice for failing to self-isolate — she’s now facing a $5,000 fine.

In Summerside, P.E.I., a man was fined $1,000 after twice being warned to self-isolate, and ignoring the warnings. (In P.E.I., a first offence is a $1,000 ticket, a second offence is $2,000, and after that, the fine jumps to $10,000.)

There’s this from the Cape Breton Post: “March 27, a 58-year-old New Waterford woman was fined $1,000 after refusing to leave the lobby of a financial institution where the maximum number of allowed patrons were already present. The woman repeatedly entered the building and attempted to force her way into the line-up.” And this: “(A) 17-year-old and a 19-year-old resident of Glace Bay parked at John Bernard Croak Park and were each fined $1,000 for failure to obey the act by social distancing. … the pair had travelled there in the vehicle together but were not part of the same household.”

It’s all just proof provincial governments and police forces are taken COVID-19 isolation and distancing very seriously.

And that no nation has a monopoly on stupid.

We’re watching as countries like Italy, Spain and the United States are torn apart by COVID-19, all with the clear knowledge that not only can the same scenario be played out here, but that, once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s not going back in.

By that, I mean that once there is widespread community infection, simple methods like self-isolation start to lose their effect, because necessary travel — for food, other supplies, and to hospital — have incrementally higher chances for the virus to spread.

It only takes one bad roll of the dice, and we’re rolling those dice thousands upon thousands of times every single day.

You can understand that there’s desperation and frustration out there; heck, I’m writing this from my home office, and there’s desperation and frustration right here in the room with me.

But you also have to understand that police aren’t even slapping down tickets on every single person they see standing too close to someone else. There’s a fair amount of using potentials offence as teaching opportunities — tickets are the last resort for people too stubborn to face facts.

The last three weeks has been hard for most Canadians, and brutally hard for some. The idea that all that effort and privation by the bulk of Canadians could be undercut by the foolish behaviour of a few is really hard to take.

Every time I hear about another case, I think of how little it takes to make a spreading cluster of COVID-19 cases. We have the examples of how easily a cluster can start: a choir rehearsal in Washington State that left two choristers dead and 45 infected, a funeral in St. John’s connected to more than 140 cases, a curling bonspiel for doctors in Edmonton that’s left a trail of infected medical personnel…

It only takes one bad roll of the dice, and we’re rolling those dice thousands upon thousands of times every single day.

It’s a shame that just a handful seem willing to tilt the odds against the rest of us.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.


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