N.L. orders bars, gyms and other business to close amid public health emergency
'This is an unprecedented time,' says Health Minister John Haggie
- N.L. declares a public health emergency
- There are still three presumptive cases of COVID-19 in N.L.
- Anyone breaching public health orders may face fines and possible jail time
- Gyms, theatres, arenas and bars among businesses ordered to close
- Gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited
Health Minister John Haggie has declared a public health emergency over the COVID-19 global pandemic, and the province is ordering multiple types of business to close.
Gyms, fitness facilities, cinemas, performance spaces, arenas and bars must close their doors, said the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, at a news conference late Wednesday afternoon, alongside Premier Dwight Ball and Health Minister John Haggie.
Also, gatherings of 50 or more people are not permitted, Fitzgerald added. Restaurants can operate at 50 per cent of their regular capacity, if social distancing can work within the space. Takeout and delivery services can continue.
The Public Health and Promotion Act, passed in 2018, gives health officials the authority to restrict rights and freedoms in a time of crisis.
"This is an unprecedented time," said Haggie.
Anyone coming back from anywhere outside Canada must now self-isolate for 14 days, said Fitzgerald, including those returning from the United States.
Watch Wednesday COVID-19 update from premier, health minister and chief medical officer of health
"These measures are put in place not because our situation has deteriorated but, after careful consideration, we feel this is the best way to protect the health of our population and reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19," said Fitzgerald.
There are still three presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in N.L., all of which are in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region, with no new cases found since Tuesday afternoon's update.
Fitzgerald said all three individuals are doing fine at home.
In total, 590 people have been tested, and 248 people are in self-isolation.
Haggie acknowledged there is a "significant strain" on the province's health hotline, 811. He said another 14 nurses, in addition to the ones added previously this week, have been hired to help with the call volume.
Pharmacists will have the ability to refill or renew prescriptions, under their regulations, in order to alleviate some of the pressure being faced by doctors.
'We will use' fines if we must: Haggie
The emergency order enables penalties and consequences to be levied against people who don't comply with the new restrictions.
"We hope we never have to use them, but they exist and if necessary we will use them," Haggie said.
Individuals face a fine between $500 to $2,500 or a prison sentence of less than six months or a combination of the two.
Corporations can face fines of $5,000 and $50,000 and directors would be held personally liable and susceptible to individual fines. Fines and penalties will multiply after the first instance.
These are tough times: premier
Ball opened the press conference by talking about the "tough times," citing both the COVID-19 pandemic and free-falling oil prices.
He said the Newfoundland and Labrador government is giving a three-month reprieve to any businesses that have loans from the province.
Ball added he wants financial assistance from Ottawa to start flowing as soon as possible, and said he is in touch regularly with other premiers and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
"This is not a one size fits all [solution].… What works in one province or territory does not necessarily mean it will work in Newfoundland and Labrador," he said.
More communities closing facilities
Corner Brook, Gander and Happy Valley-Goose Bay are the latest communities to cancel programs and events at town facilities. They come on the heels of most major municipalities on the Northeast Avalon announcing major changes and closures to city and town facilities.
"We're in the early stage of a potentially long process," said Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons. "Of course if we need to [call a state of emergency] we are ready and able to do that. We're not there yet.
Services like snow clearing, water and sewer and garbage collection will continue.
The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador is suspending all criminal, family and civil matters except for certain in-custody criminal matters, urgent matters, and those related to public health and safety and COVID-19.
The province's Court of Appeal is suspending scheduled appeals, and applications will go ahead via telephone or video.
With files from Ryan Cooke and Stephanie Kinsella