COVID-19: Province putting partiers on notice, but what are the consequences?

WatchThe province is giving a warning ahead of this weekend — they'll be watching any private parties that go down, ready with consequences. Kori Sidaway tries to find out what the penalties might be and exactly how it will all be policed.

British Columbia is facing a spike in COVID cases, mainly thanks to private parties held over this past long weekend.

It has the province saying it will be getting tough.

“This weekend if you have banquet halls where a private party is taking place, you will be seeing environmental health officers. It’s our expectation that the limits on the number of people at parties will be in place this weekend everywhere in B.C.” said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix on Thursday.

“Should it not be followed, inevitably, consequences must follow.”

But some say the rules and the consequences are confusing.

“I’m not sure I actually understand what the punishment would be,” said Chris Fretwell, booking co-ordinator with the Victoria Event Centre, who says regardless, they’re firmly following the health authority’s order of a maximum of 50 people per event.

In a provincial state of emergency, the provincial health officer can make orders as needed. Following the orders are mandatory.

If someone is hosting a party over the 50 person limit, B.C.’s provincial health officer has some advice.

“Nobody should be calling 911 unless they have a medical emergency, let’s be clear about that,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday.

“There are things people can do, there are bylaw officers that have jurisdiction around parties that are causing complaints and nuisance etc.”

But a spokesperson for the City of Victoria says while bylaw officers will assist in responding to complaints of large gatherings, they aren’t allowed to ticket people.

Victoria police says while they’ll be keeping an eye out, they likely won’t be using a firm hand.

“As for penalties, it really depends on the circumstances of each individual incident,” said Victoria Police spokesperson Bowen Osoko.

Island Health has 31 health officers across the island, who, since phase 2, have looked into 120 complaints mainly at businesses, not parties.

They say their focus is education.

“In rare circumstances when education and support is not effective, there is the potential for orders to be placed on the operator to mandate compliance,” said Island Health in a statement.

But enforcement seems to fall short when it comes to private parties. Other than breaking them up, it’s unclear what the repercussions really are.

CHEK asked the Ministry of Health for clarification, but they didn’t respond before the publication of this article.

Meanwhile, one expert who studies the spread and control of infectious diseases, says fines aren’t the worry. The real consequences are much direr.

“If we are doing what we are doing right now without a change in the behaviour or control policies, then it’s going to grow exponentially,” said Junling Ma, a mathematics and statistics professor at the University of Victoria.

“That means roughly the case counts may double for a fixed period of time.”

The province says their rules or orders will be evaluated as long the pandemic is with us.

However, for this weekend the province says party time is over.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 84 new COVID-19 cases, no new cases in Island Health

Kori Sidaway

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