New Brunswick

Premier Blaine Higgs warns COVID-19 rule breakers of fines over $10K, even confinement

Premier Blaine Higgs issued a stern warning Monday to any New Brunswickers still ignoring the COVID-19 state of emergency rules.

New Brunswick sees first confirmed cases of community transmission as total climbs to 68

Premier Blaine Higgs said the government made difficult decisions early, closing schools, government offices, businesses and all non-essential services to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of COVID-19. (CBC)

Premier Blaine Higgs issued a stern warning Monday to any New Brunswickers still ignoring the COVID-19 state of emergency rules.

"We will continue to ramp this up in terms of enforcement to ensure compliance," he told reporters during the briefing in Fredericton.

That could include fines of more than $10,000 and "in extreme cases, it could lead to confinement," he said.

Higgs' comments came the same day New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced COVID-19 is now spreading through community transmission.

Until recently, all of the cases of the viral infection have been directly or indirectly related to travel, but there are now cases in health zones 1, 2 and 4 (the Moncton, Saint John and Edmundston regions) that can't be linked to travel, she said.

There are other possible cases of community spread under investigation in other regions, she said. But she declined to disclose any specifics

Russell also announced two new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the province's total to 68.

The new cases include an individual in their 30s in Zone 2, the Saint John region, and an individual in their 60s in Zone 3, the Fredericton region.

Higgs said while most people understand the province is under a state of emergency, with widespread school and business closures, restrictions on public gatherings and new interprovincial checkpoints to try to control the spread of the virus, there are still people "putting us all at risk.

"There have been stories in the media over the past week about people engaging in unacceptable behaviour that puts residents, essential workers and first responders in danger."

More than 100 vehicles at beach

He called reports of more than 100 vehicles being parked at New River Beach near Saint John over the weekend "disappointing at the very least."

He reiterated that parks, beaches, playgrounds and other typical gathering places are closed to the public. Municipal parks for the most part have stayed open during the outbreak, but provincial and national parks are closed.

Higgs said he isn't aware of any fines being issued over the weekend but said the province has notified the authorities.

"I assure you, if there's a lineup of cars there in the coming days, there will be fines, there will be warnings, there will be tickets, there will be enforcement because we are not going to continue to let this pandemic spread throughout our province because some people refuse to take it seriously and are allowing others to be at risk because of it."

Higgs said he understands people want to be outside in the nice weather, but they need to understand they're putting themselves and others "in harm's way."

Everyone has a responsibility to keep themselves and others safe and must take that responsibility "very seriously," he stressed.

93 vehicles turned away

At the screening checkpoints set up at provincial borders last week, public safety officers have stopped more than 2,500 to date, said Higgs.

This includes close to 1,700 commercial vehicles and 210 vehicles carrying New Brunswickers instructed to self-isolate for 14 days.

Officers also stopped 93 vehicles attempting to travel unnecessarily. "These vehicles were turned away," Higgs said.

Again, the premier said he was not aware of any particular charges being laid.

But "if we see a continued … non-compliance of the rules then fines will be implemented, we will charge individuals," he said.

"This is a matter of health and safety to not only the individuals that are in non-compliance but to the many people that they might come in contact with."

The officers, which include a "broad range" of RCMP, Public Safety, Natural Resources and Emergency Measures Organization officials, will be following up with those who are supposed to be self-isolating to ensure compliance, said Higgs.

"If we find cases where they are not following our isolation, then we would go the next step with charges."

Officers are also investigating 250 cases of non-compliance under the state of emergency declaration, he added.