Why B.C. officials say they aren't fining people at crowded events despite a spike in COVID cases
VANCOUVER -- A surge in COVID-19 cases linked to young people partying has some B.C. residents calling for fines and enforcement – but officials are standing by their approach.
The province's active caseload has doubled since the end of June, growing to 304 from 152, and many of the latest infections have been caused by people partying with strangers from outside their bubble or otherwise failing to follow the recommended pandemic precautions.
That led Premier John Horgan to offer a scolding message on Thursday morning to the young people caught on camera in crowded gatherings in Vancouver and Kelowna: "Come on, you're better than that."
It was a stronger tone than the one used by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has often declined opportunities to lecture rule-breakers and instead focused on appealing to the public's sense of community responsibility.
"We have always relied on people's best judgement and best sense," Henry said at a separate news conference held hours later. "But we cannot lose sight of the fact that if we let our guard down, and we have too many people in those places, then it can get away from us."
But despite putting on a show of good cop, bad cop, the two officials still both prefer the carrot over the stick when it comes to managing the pandemic.
Asked about the possibility of ramping up enforcement in light of a heavily publicized drum circle gathering at Vancouver's Third Beach, Horgan stressed that British Columbia's early success battling the pandemic was earned without the need for heavy handed fines or penalties.
"Other jurisdictions, as you know, put in place fines early on. That's not the approach that we took," the premier said. "I say to the drummers: There's lots of coastline in British Columbia, there's lots of places for you to gather in smaller groups to indulge your musical creativity or do anything else you may want to do, but do it responsibly. That's the approach we've taken… and that's the approach we'll continue to take going forward."
Henry had a similar response after being asked by a reporter whether the government would start "sending people onto beaches with blow horns."
"That's never been my style," Henry said, adding that officials are considering how they can "support people being able to safely go to beaches and parks and other outdoor spaces in small numbers."
Henry noted that the government is tweaking some of its regulations in response to the growing number of infections. Bars and nightclubs are already under stricter rules that ban dancing and buying drinks directly from bartenders.
"We are tweaking the guidance that we have, the orders around restaurants and pubs and those events where we know that these are risky situations, to try and ensure that we can keep things open and allow people to have those opportunities to get together and socialize. We know how important that is," Henry said.
The provincial health officer is also preparing a new order limiting the number of guests allowed in rental homes, boathouses and boats to help ensure people act responsibly. She even suggested this week there could be regional restrictions in the Kelowna area following the parties that have already led to at least 78 infections and forced more than 1,000 people into precautionary self-isolation.
Many of the people involved in those events were in their 20s and 30s. Officials said to keep British Columbia on its current paths, all generations must band together and follow the rules together.
"Respect other people – this is what it's really all about at the end of the day," Horgan said. "Don’t be reckless because that recklessness can have an impact on other people down the line."