Albertans are voicing frustration at neighbours and businesses who are blatantly breaking public health restrictions with little to no consequences a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alberta has been navigating the global pandemic with various levels of public health restrictions with various businesses opening and closing over the past 13 months. People have been dealing with various rules around gatherings, eating at restaurants and where they need to wear masks among other things.
Glori Meldrum, who lives in Edmonton, said she has neighbours who have held several large gatherings over the past few weeks with close to a dozen vehicles parking outside each time despite current rules prohibiting all indoor gatherings. She said she has filed complaints but has yet to see anyone enforce the government-mandated regulations.
Several other Albertans have gone to social media to raise concerns over similar situations where neighbours have openly defied orders.
“It’s frustrating. I mean, I’m not gonna say that it’s not,” said Meldrum. “I couldn’t believe it when it was in my own backyard, and nobody would do anything.”
She said she initially called police to file a complaint but was told it was a provincial issue, so she reached out to Alberta Health Services and eventually filled out an online submission. She said it is frustrating to see gathering limits and wearing masks turn into divisive issues that people won’t comply with while she has friends waiting for surgeries that were postponed due to the pandemic.
“There are rules that need to be followed and the government can’t expect us to follow them if there are no consequences,” said Meldrum.
Provincial chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has said several times that public health orders are enforced by local law enforcement or public health inspectors. Police have the authority to issue fines, but Alberta RCMP have previously said only health inspectors have the authority to close a business.
AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson said the health agency is aware that there are some Albertans openly defying health restrictions but that the majority of people follow them closely.
“Our public health inspectors and teams have been working hard for more than a year now to educate and, when appropriate, enforce compliance,” said Williamson. “The demands on our teams have grown significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Willimason said he understands restrictions are difficult at times and COVID-19 fatigue has set in for many, but he implored Albertans to continue to follow the rules.
Meldrum said a year into the pandemic, the educational approach hasn’t worked, pointing to positive cases beginning to rise in recent weeks.
AHS Tom McMillan said people who violate health restrictions could receive a $1,000 fine.
“Additionally, you can be prosecuted for up to $100,000 for a first offence, and additional measures, including closures, can occur,” said McMillan.
The AHS website shows there are seven active work orders against various businesses in the Edmonton Zone and one active closure order.
This past week, AHS enforced that closure order at GraceLife Church in Parkland County by erecting layers of fencing around the building, physically closing the church after the order was issued in January. The church’s congregation was observed on multiple occasions gathering in large groups without wearing masks or physically distancing from one another.
Meldrum said it was good to see the rules being enforced against the church that openly questioned public health measures but said she’s concerned that it took months for the enforcement. She said she believes a previous lack of enforcement at the church emboldened others to break the rules.
“You need to need to enforce it and they didn’t do that. They just let them go and let them go … that’s just not OK,” said Meldrum. “But when they when they did it, I was so proud.”