Manitobans with COVID-19 and their close contacts could face fines of nearly $500 per day if they don’t properly self-isolate after new public health orders come into effect Friday.
It was already mandatory to isolate in those situations and the province already has the power to fine people through a multiple-step process, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said on Thursday.
But the new orders will simplify that process by allowing officials to immediately fine people $486 daily if they break the rules.
The new rules come in response to some people in Manitoba not properly self-isolating when they should, including reports from the public suggesting some rule breakers spread the illness when they should have been in isolation, Roussin said at a news conference.
Some of those reports involved cases later connected to a large cluster that infected people in Brandon, including people who went to large gatherings, he said.
That was one of the reasons the southwestern Manitoba city and the surrounding Prairie Mountain Health region were upgraded to the restricted level under the province’s pandemic response system last week. The change meant people in the area have to wear face masks in public places and limit gatherings to 10 people, as of this past Monday.
“It was an important enough trend in this specific cluster that we saw that we just wanted to make sure we had something in place,” Roussin said on Thursday.
The province has not made public all such incidences, but has identified the trend in the past.
The cluster in Brandon, for instance, began with someone who travelled to eastern Canada and did not properly self-isolate when they got back, Roussin said at the time.
He did not go into details of that particular case, but noted that self-isolation requires limiting contact with other people you live with.
And in late June, health officials announced two of the province’s recent cases of COVID-19 were people who travelled to the U.S. and Alberta, where they came into contact with a known case of the illness.
When they got back, one of the travellers did not self-isolate for the required two weeks. One of them also visited a southeastern Manitoba business while they had symptoms of the illness, officials said at the time.
Under the current rules, the province can issue a communicable disease order to reprimand someone not self-isolating after being told to do so. That person would then have to violate the order, which would allow officials to apply for another order to detain the person, Roussin said. The new rules announced Thursday will get rid of that extra step.
“[Starting Friday,] rather than having to actually detain somebody, we could just … use that as a lever to say that you can be fined,” he said.
Some exceptions allowed
People who need to self-isolate will be notified by public health officials they’ve either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the illness by a close contact of a confirmed case, Roussin said.
When that happens, the person needs to go home, or to an approved self-isolating location, and stay there for 14 days or until public health officials tell them otherwise, he said.
The new protocols will be guided by medical officers of health, who will review each case of possible scofflaws, Roussin said, though officials will try to reason with people before slapping them with hefty fines.
“Education is our No. 1 tool here,” he said. “So for the most part, we’re going to work with people to try to get them to self-isolate, support them [with] whatever they need to self-isolate. But there might be cases where we would issue this ticket.”
There will be exceptions in some cases, like if someone told to self-isolate needs urgent medical attention or needs to go to an in-person appointment with a health-care provider, Roussin said.
But if a person is allowed to leave home under those circumstances, they need to wear a face mask, maintain physical distancing and spend minimal time away from the place where they’re self-isolating, he said.
Once students return to schools in the province in early September, other exceptions to the new public health orders could come into play, Roussin said.
For example, if someone in a school cohort tests positive for COVID-19, all their close contacts will need to self-isolate. But everyone else in the group — which could be up to 75 people — won’t necessarily need to do the same, he said.
“Public health will do that investigation. And so it could include that entire cohort, [but] we might be able to narrow it,” Roussin said.
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