Council leaders in Croydon and Sutton are actively encouraging the public to break the law by attending large gatherings – ignoring the advice of health experts and potentially putting people’s health, and lives, at risk.
One councillor has appealed to their council’s leadership to “try and put public health above politicking”, accusing them of using an event as a “photo op”.
An estimated 60,000 people have died in the United Kingdom from coronavirus since March, making this country one of the worst affected in the world. Croydon has been one of the hardest hit by the deadly virus among the boroughs of London, the UK city worst-hit by covid-19.
Yet today, Ruth Dombey, the LibDem leader of Sutton Council, is expected to attend a Black Lives Matter rally outside St Helier Hospital, at which the covid-19 lockdown rule restricting gatherings to no more than six people is expected to be broken.
Yesterday, Imran Chaudhury, Sutton Council’s director of public health, reiterated the official guidance, saying, “The current public health advice on gatherings is that people from different households or support bubbles should not gather in gatherings of more than six people outside. While in a small gathering, people from different households or support bubbles should maintain social distancing.”
It is a position shared by the director of public health in Croydon, Rachel Flowers, who just two weeks ago issued a warning that this is the most dangerous time in a pandemic, and saying that it was too soon to end the strict lockdown.
“Now is not the time to be complacent,” Flowers warned.
Lockdown quarantine restrictions, first introduced on March 23, have begun to be lifted, but slowly and cautiously. Rules about maintaining a two-metre distance and wearing face masks in public areas are in place, though it is fair to say that these are not always properly followed.
Yet while Flowers and her colleagues continue to work overtime in trying to avoid a “second spike” in covid-19 deaths in the borough, staff working for Croydon Mayor Humayun Kabir this week issued an email to nearly 100 recipients – councillors and council employees – encouraging them to break lockdown laws next week not just once but three times.
“The Mayor would like to draw your attention to a number of significant events next week being marked by the council: Windrush Day, Armed Forces week and Global Pride,” the internal council email said.
“Each of these will be marked by a short flag-raising ceremony outside the Clocktower. A small group representing the council will attend each flag-raising. Members of the majority and minority groups have been invited to attend as part these groups [sic].
“Other councillors are also very welcome to attend any of the flag-raisings should they wish to. If you are going to attend, may I remind you to please try to observe social distancing rules and the wearing of a mask is recommended.”
The email makes no mention of the ban on gatherings of more than six people.
It was issued to the council chief exec, Jo Negrini, though public health director Flowers was not on the circulation list.
Tony Newman, the increasingly erratic leader of the council, has tweeted enthusiastically about Monday’s first flag-raising photo op.
The council failed to respond when asked for an explanation over why thee chief executive and council leader have chosen to ignore the advice of the borough’s director of public health. And the law.
A Windrush flag is to be raised outside the Town Hall at 9.30am on Monday, Armed Forces week will be marked with a flag-raising at 5pm on the same day, and the Pride flag will be raised at 9.30am on Friday, June 26.
Black Lives Matter events were held across Croydon in the past fortnight, including one outside the Town Hall that was attended by the borough police commander, Superintendent Andy Brittain. A large group of people gathered in Park Hill, where community leaders made speeches to a socially distanced crowd.
But for at least one councillor in Sutton, Dombey’s attendance at an event which will flout lockdown laws is nothing more than gesture politics.
“You should be contacting councillors and officers sharing the public health director’s and the government’s view on how we should be conducting ourselves to avoid infection,” Nick Mattey, the independent councillor for Beddington North, wrote to Dombey yesterday ahead of the event at St Helier – a hospital which has witnessed a significant number of fatalities caused by coronavirus.
“Too many people have died so far for the council not to be leading by example.
“I realise that the temptation to appear in a photo op at the demonstration may be extreme. But try and put public health above politicking.”
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