There have been months long concerns around whether harsher measures may be needed to impose the coronavirus social distancing measures across the UK as the population grows weary. However, many are likely to be surprised at the extent to which the government’s scientific advisors are now saying enforcement measures should be taken.
The British Army could be required to pacify possible public disorder in the coming months as the population grows more frustrated with coronavirus lockdown measures, according to a report by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
The eruption of a break down in public order may, the academics who authored the report – which was written at the start of July but released yesterday – warn, “overwhelm all attempts” to control the coronavirus and “catastrophically” disrupt economic recovery plans.
Yet, the police are not prepared to manage any precipitous decline in public order, therefore the government should be prepared to put the military on standby, the report’s authors recommend.
The academics also warn that difficulties created by the coronavirus-induced lockdown are “inextricably bound” with structural inequalities and global affairs. Particularly, they point to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US that sparked an international movement in May and early June following the murder of unarmed black man, George Floyd, by police in the United States.
There exists, the authors write, a growing feeling of “racial injustice, inequality and discrimination” among black, Asian and minority ethnic (so-called BAME) communities, who, they say, have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.
The report also highlights what it described as the increasing mobilisation of “right-wing” groups who, among other thing, are “blaming” the imposition of local coronavirus lockdown measures on BAME communities.
The paper, penned by Professors Cliff Scott and Mark Harrison of SAGE, reads, “while widespread urban disorder is not inevitable, currently, the situation in the UK is precariously balanced and the smallest error in policing (whether perceived or real, inside or outside the UK) or policy could unleash a dynamic which will make the management of Covid-19 all but impossible.”
“Put simply, a serious deterioration of public order could overwhelm all attempts to control contagion, overwhelm hospitals, the criminal justice system and hinder revival of the economy,” they add.
The report also notes that along with large-scale protests, public celebrations and music events have also been increasing in number, alongside muddled public health messaging from Boris Johnson’s government.
Prophetically, the academics say that the imposing of a local lockdown on the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday – which began on July 31 – could be “potentially problematic.” Moreover, top scientists reportedly told ministers weeks ago that the Eid holiday would be “problematic” in the fight against coronavirus.
Over the past few days, localised lockdowns have been imposed in areas with large Muslim populations, namely Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire following reports of a spike in coronavirus cases in and around those areas. These began on the evening of Thursday, July 30, the night before Eid al-Adha began.
Critics accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of targeting Eid celebrations with those lockdown measures. In a series of Tweets, the Health Secretary said that the measures were necessary to “keep people safe.”
So far, there have been 303,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK, with approximately 46,119 deaths.