Watching Premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strange at COVID-19 press conferences we see their frustration and bewilderment with those who flout regulations meant to restrict the potential spread of the virus.
They, like other premiers, can’t understand why some people don’t take the risk seriously. Last week in Nova Scotia we heard of private parties of 60 people. The week before Ontario reported a case where someone hired a storage unit to host a party for 100 people! And on Saturday, The Daily Beast reported on a secret wedding attended by 10,000 members of an Hasidic community in New York.
These aren’t mere social gaffs where an attendee brings an unexpected guest along. These are purposeful acts. Some people may believe the pandemic is over-hyped and that their immune system is strong enough to keep them safe, but these are extraordinary times which require everyone to suffer some personal inconvenience.
The problem is the inadequate consequences for those who break the rules. They haven’t the bite to be a deterrent. In Nova Scotia jaywalking carries a $697 fine. Host a 60-person party and you may be fined $750-$1,000. I understand that on arrival at several Valley parties guests contributed to a pot for any potential fine. Basically, they treated it like an admission charge.
The fines for this irresponsibility should reflect the economic damage done by these potential community spreader-events. Businesses are closed or open for reduced hours and/or operate under heavier, costly restrictions. Small business owners are losing their dreams and life-savings. Those people who are paid by the hour – which includes retail, bar and restaurant staff, personal trainers and others – lose income. Community and service groups who normally host fund-raising events lose revenue-making opportunities which limit how they give back to the community.
Breaking the temporary restrictions on gatherings are not just a health risk, they should be considered an economic crime. Those who disobey this emergency should be charged with a Criminal Code offense. That applies to host(s) and guests. Their names should be published (for the benefit of future employers) and they should be liable for damages caused to businesses forced to close because of their actions.
Hosting a party for 60 or 100 or more people should be a greater offense than jaywalking.