Some Canadians may think the federal and provincial governments are going overboard by using arrests, fines and jail time to urge people to stay inside and away from one another to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
But as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide soar past one million, other cities and countries are using even stronger and in some cases extreme measures to enforce lockdowns, control narratives and promote certain precautions like wearing face masks.
Even more federal, state and local governments are getting creative in their efforts to get people to pay attention and follow the rules, with some humourous results.
Here’s what officials are resorting to around the world.
Police, military enforcing lockdowns
Although police departments are working with bylaw officers across Canada to help enforce provincial and federal measures, law enforcement elsewhere are being given far deadlier marching orders.
“Shoot them dead,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised address Thursday, according to Reuters. He said the message was directed to the police and military if they face “trouble and there’s an occasion that they fight back and your lives are in danger.”
“Is that understood? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I will bury you,” he added, this time addressing his citizens who he urged to follow home quarantine measures, including poor residents who have been protesting a lack of government aid.
Coronavirus outbreak: Israeli police step up COVID-19 enforcement among ultra-Orthodox Jews
While other world leaders haven’t made such declarations, many police and military forces have turned to violence to get people to obey the rules.
In South Africa, the Associated Press reported officers berated homeless people and beat them with batons mere minutes after a three-week lockdown went into effect, while some citizens reported the use of rubber bullets. Kenyan police sprayed tear gas on hundreds of people trying to reach a ferry ahead of the first night of a national curfew, which the interior ministry defended by calling those who break the curfew “irresponsible.”
Amnesty International and other human rights advocates have called for investigations into those and other violent outbreaks involving police.
Police across Britain have also been criticized for an inconsistent approach to enforcing the national lockdown there, according to Reuters, with some regions reporting officers using a heavier hand than others.
Transport Minister Grant Shapps admitted police had gone “perhaps a bit further than they should have gone” in some cities and towns, from questioning dog walkers on why they had travelled to open areas to fining multiple people from the same household for going to shops.
Police in Derbyshire have used drones to monitor beauty spots and even put dye into a lake to discourage visitors.
Hungary’s parliament passed a bill Monday that grants Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s administration and open-ended right to rule by decree, along with five-year jail sentences for anyone who spreads false information about the coronavirus.
Opposition parties, civic groups and European Union members have expressed outrage, the AP said, arguing the rules could be used to silence the media.
Coronavirus outbreak: EU has now closed to the outside amid spread of COVID-19
Russia has also approved similar jail terms and fines up to $25,000 for individuals who spread what authorities deem “fake news,” the AP reported separately, while media outlets could see fines as high as $127,000. The AP spoke with a political analyst whose interview accusing the government of covering up deaths in the country was deleted from the radio station’s website shortly before those penalties were introduced.
“In crises, those in power try very hard to control the information and push their own agenda. And, of course, it makes sense to suppress alternative points of view,” Valery Solovei told The Associated Press.
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has also caught attention by assuming “full supremacy” over decision-making within the government, issuing daily decrees and turning the country into what critics told the AP was inching toward an autocratic police state.
Tough measures introduced in Israel, meanwhile, have led to the delay of Benjamin Netanyahu’s own pending corruption trial, as court activity has nearly ground to a halt on his orders, the New York Times and others have reported.
Canada’s government has also faced criticism that it overstepped: the original version of the $82-billion federal economic response package gave Finance Minister Bill Morneau power to raise or lower taxes without Parliamentary approval until the end of 2021. That section was ultimately removed from the final bill after outcry from the Conservatives.
Social distancing measures
Both Panama and Peru have taken a unique approach to ensuring social distancing remains in place during their quarantines: dividing up the genders.
Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra said on Thursday that men and women will only be allowed to leave their homes on designated days, according to Reuters. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only men will be able to leave their homes to stock up. Women can go out on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Nobody will be allowed to leave home on Sundays.
That same Reuters report quoted Panama’s Security Minister Juan Pino from a day earlier at a virtual press conference, where he announced a similar schedule with alternate days for men and women.
“With an absolute quarantine, men and women will have a schedule to transit,” Pino said.
Some towns in Colombia are allowing people outside based on the last number of their national ID number, the BBC said. In Barrancabermeja, anyone with a number ending in 0, 4 or 7 can leave the house on Mondays, while numbers ending in 1, 5 or 8 can go outside on Tuesdays.
Mandatory face masks
Although scientists are conflicted on whether face masks and other coverings are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19, some cities and countries are not taking any chances.
Four European countries — Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina — have made it mandatory for people to cover their mouths and noses when entering certain public spaces, including supermarkets, according to NPR and the Financial Times. Some European cities, including Jena in east Germany, has introduced similar measures, the BBC noted.
Coronavirus outbreak: Birx says debate continuing on masks being worn in public
The practice is already widespread across much of Asia, which researchers told CNN may have contributed to slowing the spread of the virus.
American cities both large and small are starting to get on board now that the U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases. On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s pleaded that everyone in the Big Apple should start wearing masks whenever they’re outside. And in Laredo, Tex., people over the age of five can face a fine up to $1,000 if caught without their face covered, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday encouraged all Americans to follow De Blasio’s advice, though officials advised people should use rudimentary coverings like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks to cover their faces while leaving medical masks for health workers.
While police in some parts of India have also been criticized for excessive force — even allegedly killing people thought to be violating quarantine rules, including an ambulance driver — one department has gained a different kind of notoriety.
As reported by Reuters and others, commuters in Chennai are being stopped by at least one traffic officer wearing a so-called “coronahelmet,” painted red with spikes to represent the microscopic image of the virus itself.
Police in Tamil Nadu devised the headwear to raise awareness about the virus, using humour rather than force to encourage commuters to stay at home during the 21-day nationwide lockdown.
“I wanted to do something in a friendly manner for all the police people who are working here, so I curated this idea by creating a different helmet,” said Gautham, the Indian artist behind the shocking headpiece. “This helmet will definitely make people aware of the thing (coronavirus).”
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.