(Gathering in Victoria/Photo by Lexy Solomon - Submitted‎)

Despite calls for physical distancing and pleas from health experts to stop meeting in groups, this past weekend saw a surge of gatherings in Victoria and Esquimalt.

According to a statement from Victoria Police, officers were called to a total of nine noise complaints over the past weekend after multiple groups hosted gatherings and parties in apartment units and at Saxe Point Park.

VicPD chief Del Manak says these parties are driven by a lack of understanding among people who do not realize that what they are doing is risking the safety of others and themselves.


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In a phone interview with Victoria Buzz, Manak points out that while the partygoers were cooperative when officers asked them to disperse, “there was a complacent attitude [among all of them] of ‘we’re not bothering anyone, we’re just having fun’.”

The gatherings comprised mostly of young adults and teenagers who, Manak believes, realize they are not immune to the virus but decided to go out anyway.

In discussions with those who have gathered in groups over the past two weekends, officers have found that despite the risks, many people are choosing to get together with smaller groups of people after being cooped up at home during the week.

Case reports show that Victoria and Esquimalt residents have been doing a good job of self isolating during the week, but throw caution to the wind come weekend.

For the past two weekends, police have seen spikes in social gatherings particularly on Saturdays.

Protecting those on the front lines

“Are you not listening to the countless doctors and nurses that already have a difficult job? Why wouldn’t you want to make health care workers’ jobs easier at a time when they’re already challenged?,” says Manak, with more than a hint of frustration in his voice.

“Look, we get it: it’s not fun, it’s not easy, and it’s not what we normally do on weekends. But we’re at a critical time where we have to pitch in and do the right thing.”

In urging people to consider the safety of health care workers and other essential service workers, Manak notes that police officers called to break up large gatherings are also exposed to the risks of COVID-19 transmission.

While doing their duty, officers have been trying to maintain physical distances, wash their hands as much as possible, and, wherever necessary, make use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like disposable rubber gloves and protective eye gear.

“I find it frustrating that our officers are put into these precarious positions unnecessarily. These types of gatherings are avoidable, they’re preventable, and it just takes people doing the right thing to keep our officers safe, those individuals wanting to gather safe, and our community safe,” says Manak.

Enforcement

Last week, the provincial government gave municipal bylaw officers the authority to impose fines of up to $25,000 and even arrest people found violating the provincial health officer’s orders.

According to Manak, the framework that would allow bylaw officers to perform that role is currently being drawn up by the provincial government under the Public Health Act, meaning police departments are still waiting for direction.

In the City of Victoria, bylaw officers have reached their maximum capacity particularly in responding to calls related to sheltering the city’s homeless population, said mayor Lisa Helps during her daily briefing on Monday.

City council is working with Emergency Management BC to figure out whether hiring more bylaw officers is feasible, and whether they would be paid for by EMBC.

However Manak believes that while enforcement is a good tool to have, more can be achieved just by educating people about the necessity of maintaining physical distancing and asking them to follow Dr. Henry’s orders.

“It really is the first line of defence. It’s the first line of defence by keeping our distance so that we’re not spreading the virus unnecessarily and we need to do what we can to slow it down,” he says.

“It’s vital that we listen to our medical health experts.”