No fines for people at two large family gatherings in Saskatchewan

REGINA — Officials in Saskatchewan say no fines have been levied against those who took part in two large family gatherings that triggered an outbreak of COVID-19 in Saskatoon.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said up to four cases of infection have so far been tied to the 60 or so people who attended the events on different dates earlier this month.

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He did not disclose details of the gatherings, but health officials say close contacts are self-isolating.

A public health order restricts crowd sizes to no more than 10 people, but that is to increase next month to 15 people indoors and 30 when outside.

Although Shahab said those who violate the gathering order could face fines, officials decided in this case the best course of action was education.

"Obviously there's the possibility of issuing a ticket and fines but progressive enforcement has worked well for us in the past," Shahab said Thursday.

"In this case my understanding is there's an attempt to understand why some of those considerations were not thought of when the event was planned."

Premier Scott Moe said people who repeatedly disregarded public health advice around the pandemic have been fined, but the first step is to educate them about transmission risks.

"If there's repeated not following the public health orders, most certainly we would move forward with a fine," he said.

"The goal of the public health orders is to have compliance with the public health orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It's not to fine anyone."

Police in Saskatchewan have been receiving complaints related to COVID-19, and the province set up a phone line to report suspected violations, which has received hundreds of calls.

In many cases police focused their attention on education, but some charges have been laid. In April, police in Regina fined a 23-year-old woman nearly $3,000 for not self-isolating despite being positive with COVID-19.

Saskatchewan reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. A provincial state of emergency was extended for another two weeks.

Officials said one new infection was in the north and the other was in the Saskatoon region.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in the province sat at 639. Of those infections, 61 are considered active and 568 people have recovered. Ten people have died and four are in hospital.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020

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