New ads, extra enforcement staff coming from province

The Manitoba government won’t be implementing a proposed curfew in the Winnipeg area to curb the rise in COVID-19 at this time, Premier Brian Pallister announced Thursday.

Pallister said health officials feel the measure would be premature right now, given that Winnipeg and the surrounding area are only a few days into the latest heightened public health restrictions, and the province wants to allow more time for the restrictions to work.

Instead, the province plans to beef up its enforcement, the premier said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“There will be consequences for people when they put others in danger, when they put themselves in danger,” Pallister said.

Manitobans responded in great numbers to the province’s online survey on the proposed curfew, he said, with many saying that they would support it if necessary, but would prefer the province focused on catching people breaking the rules.

The Manitoba government will spend about $2.5 million on enforcement efforts of COVID-19 restrictions, which also include improving its tip line for reporting COVID-19 rule breakers, Pallister said.

Manitoba health officials reported four more deaths related to COVID-19 and 427 new cases on Thursday — the province’s second-highest increase in a single day.

The number of patients in hospital with the illness also jumped Thursday to 153 — the highest number to date — with 16 people in intensive care.

A new Probe Research poll suggests there is strong support among Manitobans for the code red restrictions in the Winnipeg-area, with more than one half of those surveyed saying they don’t think the restrictions go far enough. 

About eight in 10 Manitobans said they would be willing to endure even stricter restrictions for a few weeks, with a slightly higher proportion agreeing their fellow citizens are not doing the things they should be doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Probe report said. 

When asked about the poll, Pallister said the majority of Manitobans are doing their part to curb COVID-19 in the province, and the government wants to target its efforts on changing the behaviours of the Manitobans who aren’t rather than clamp down on everyone.

Ad campaign targets youth

In addition, the province is launching a new digital ad campaign about how COVID-19 spreads, which appears to be targeted at young people. 

One of the ads, played during Thursday’s news conference, features a young man talking about how he caught COVID-19 and then spread it to someone who later died. 

The ad shows the young man having a drink and socializing with numerous friends. 

“I wanted to feel like things were normal again,” the man says.

It then shows him going about his day, and how many people he comes into contact with. He goes on to say that while he might be fine after catching COVID, others were not so lucky. 

The ad closes on a grim picture: the man standing over a coffin. 

Watch the ad below: 

The ads will be published on various digital and social media channels including Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok.

The ads were the result of focus groups with high school students and Manitobans between the ages of 18 to 24 conducted by Prairie Research Associates. The province hired the research agency to better understand young Manitobans’ attitudes, behaviours and experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, a background document from the province said.

During the focus groups, the research agency found that participants cited feeling “burned out” by the amount of information available about COVID-19, and have significantly reduced actively looking for information about it — if they’re looking for it at all.

Participants said they get information passively through social media, shared by friends or local businesses/media, but also through work or word of mouth.

Increased enforcement

The province also announced Thursday its enforcement will include granting a range of personnel across various agencies the power to hand out tickets to people breaking COVID-19 regulations, and plans to reimburse municipalities for any tickets written by their staff. 

Additional enforcement powers will be granted to provincial staff including motor carrier enforcement officers (who enforce the Highway Traffic Act, and work at weigh stations and operate patrol vehicles across Manitoba), fire safety inspectors and water resources officers, the province said in a news release.

The province will also reimburse municipalities for the equivalent value of any tickets written by municipal bylaw enforcement officers. 

Earlier this week, Pallister said the government was “seriously considering” instituting a curfew to curb group gatherings in an effort to stamp out the current surge in cases.

He blamed the recent spike in COVID-19 cases on “late-night situations in Winnipeg,” and also vowed to ramp up enforcement measures. 

On Tuesday, the province launched an online survey for the public to give feedback on the idea.

Winnipeg police have also pledged to ramp up their enforcement of public health orders, saying they’ll focus on breaking up house parties and other big gatherings.

Fines for violating COVID-19 health orders in Manitoba are now set at $1,296 for individuals and $5,000 for businesses.

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