Alberta fielding hundreds of COVID-19 violation complaints each day, health minister says

Alberta health inspectors have been fielding more than 1,600 complaints a day about people and businesses failing to comply with COVID-19 health orders, the provincial health minister says. 

Tyler Shandro said he expects the number of complaints to spike in the coming days as new laws giving police and community peace officers the power to levy steep fines for breaking isolation orders during the pandemic come into force.

“Our public health act has always been enforced on a complaints-driven basis,” Shandro said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“People who aren’t just taking a walk but putting themselves and putting others at risk, those are the situations we are worried about.” 

Shandro said people are encouraged to report any infractions to provincial public health officials. A tip line will be set up in the coming days, Shandro said.

Premier Jason Kenney announced the stringent new enforcement powers Wednesday afternoon after revealing the number of confirmed cases province-wide had increased to 419. 

People who don’t self-isolate as directed or join gatherings of more than 50 people can expect steep fines — $1,000 for a first offence or up to $100,000 for more serious violations.  

The government has also made it mandatory for travellers returning from outside of Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.

After a surge in complaints, enforcement became unmanageable for public health officers to handle alone, Shandro said. 

“They have been going out and they have been talking to people who have not been listening to Dr. Deena Hinshaw,” he said. 

“They’ve been trying their best to use education but now we need to give them some new tools.

“We wanted to make sure that those public health inspectors were getting the support that they need so they can  actually start enforcing these orders and the act.” 

‘Not going to enforce our way out of this’

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Wednesday that Alberta has 61 new cases of the novel coronavirus. Two people have died. Twenty are hospitalized with eight in intensive care.

The latest person to die was a woman in her 80s who had been living at Calgary’s McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre.

As the number of cases continues to increase, compliance has become more important than ever, Shandro said. 

“It’s great for us to be able to give this extra tool to public health inspectors but we’re not going to enforce our way out of this,” he said.

“Just the same way we’re not going to treat our way out of this pandemic either. We’re only going to be able to get through this if people, all Albertans, are taking this seriously.

“This is about making sure we have enough ICU beds, that we have enough ventilators for everyone who is going to need them throughout this pandemic.”