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Vancouver to introduce fines for businesses that ignore COVID-19 precautions
VANCOUVER -- March 23 update: Developing coverage on the council meeting
The mayor of Vancouver says that while many residents have been following the advice of provincial health officials, there have also been many examples of people gathering in large groups, hosting house parties and even playing beer pong.
"This weekend, I saw reports of people hosting house parties, having group picnics on the beach, playing soccer, playing beer pong," said Kennedy Stewart during a press conference on Sunday.
"Beer pong. This isn't a game. People are dying."
City Council will meet Monday to vote on new bylaws that will allow the city to fine businesses who do not comply with orders to keep restaurants and personal services businesses closed. (Restaurants are still allowed to offer take-out and delivery.) Businesses could face fines of up to $50,000.
"Will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say you did all you could?" Stewart asked.
Stewart said residents have been asking why the city doesn't move to shut down all non-essential services. He said he has been in regular contact with provincial and local health officials, and "right now they're telling me that we do not need to do this yet."
If health officials deem it necessary, Stewart said he wanted to be ready to shut down non-essential businesses and services immediately.
Stewart said that Vancouver was the first city in Canada to order restaurants to close dine-in service, a measure the province adopted soon after for all of British Columbia.
"I told residents that if they fail to listen, we would enforce and prosecute where necessary," Stewart said.
"It's OK to spend time on our beaches and parks, but you must be two metres away from everyone else and only gather with your immediate household."
The city does not currently plan to fine individuals who do not comply with recommendations to stay at home and keep physically distant, said Sadhu Johnston, the city's general manager.
Johnston said that since the city issued the order to stop dine-in service in restaurants, the city has received 33 complaints to 311, visited over 600 businesses on Saturday alone and issued 13 orders.
Over the weekend, people were seen flocking to Vancouver's parks and beaches and gathering in groups. Provincial health officials have emphasized that people need to stay home as much as possible, and stay two metres away from others when they do go out on essential trips or for a walk to get fresh air.
Park staff have now closed ball courts and playing fields, and have closed parking lots at several of the city's most popular parks. Staff have also removed logs from beaches. For now, beaches and parks will remain open, but Malcolm Bromley, general manager of parks, said the park board will continue to monitor the situation. Playgrounds have also been closed.
"For now, fun can wait," Bromley said.
As of Saturday, British Columbia had the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country and the highest number of deaths from the illness.