Bristol’s city leaders are urging people to keep up the fight against COVID-19, maintaining social distancing guidelines and avoiding illegal parties, for the sake of their own and their community’s health.
Although the number of overall cases of COVID-19 in the city remain low, there has been a small but noticeable increase in new cases over the past ten days. A number of protests and other gatherings of over 30 people without social distancing measures have already taken place in recent weeks, with more planned for the coming few days.
This has prompted the city’s Bristol COVID-19 Local Engagement Board to take the unprecedented step of voicing it's concerns about gatherings of over 30 people planned to happen over the next few days. These concerns include increased social mixing and a lack of adherence to approved guidance.
Gatherings of particular concern to the Board include raves, house parties and other get-togethers, where social distancing can’t be maintained. The risks related to these gatherings include interactions between people travelling to and from meetings, socialising before and afterwards and then passing the infection on to friends and family in the days that follow.
The Board and local health officials continue to monitor the impacts of social behaviour, including larger gatherings, on infection rates. City leaders have been working with organisers of planned large events to ensure sufficient measures are in place to protect community health. However, people are encouraged to find safer, alternative methods, such as online protest, to express their views during the pandemic.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “Against the backdrop of local cases rising and stretched services doing all they can to maintain current restrictions, we’re seeing illegal and unauthorised gatherings on the increase. Where people are getting together in groups without measures in place, sometimes mixing in alcohol, drugs and anti-social behaviour, we have the perfect environment for the virus to thrive. This irresponsible behaviour must stop or we won’t see an end to the rise in cases and the threat of a local lockdown will loom larger.
“Every effort has been taken to keep case numbers low and ensure the spread of the virus in Bristol is prevented where possible. It’s taken a monumental amount of time, personal sacrifice, change and, in some cases, loss, to get so far into the pandemic with so few case numbers compared to other parts of the UK. We must persevere and continue to follow approved guidance, apply common sense and protect the lives of others if we’re ever to return to a world free of lockdown.”
Sue Mountstevens, Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, said: “This weekend is the August Bank holiday and, while this would usually be a time when many people would go out to parties and social events to enjoy the last bit of Summer, we must be mindful that we are still in the middle of a global health emergency.
“I know many people are concerned about recent issues they’ve experienced in their communities with illegal raves, car meets and protests. The potential for the R Rate to increase in our area is real and the last thing we want is a localised outbreak that means we have to return to restrictions when other parts of the country are lifting theirs – we’ve seen how difficult this was for people living and working in areas where they’ve had local lockdowns.
“I support the police approach to only use enforcement as a last resort, but make no mistake, the police are prepared to deal robustly with those irresponsible people who intentionally go against the regulations and put people at risk.
Sandra Meadows, CEO of Voscur, Bristol’s support and development agency for charities, communities and enterprise, said: “Since the start of the pandemic, Bristol’s VCSE sector has worked extraordinarily hard alongside the Council, Police, Health and other agencies to protect vulnerable citizens and minimise risk to our communities. We are all now faced with a situation where the risk of an increased COVID-19 infection rate, as a result of mass gatherings, protests and illegal parties, is both real and significant.
“Many charities and community groups are now coping with depleted financial reserves and resources. An increase in the COVID-19 infection rate will have a devastating effect on our ability to continue to serve and protect citizens and communities. We have to ensure that our charities, community groups and volunteers, who a key part of the city’s infrastructure, survive the current pandemic and are able to help build a better future for Bristol.
“We appreciate that the current restrictions can be frustrating and having to make changes to the way we live is challenging and at times upsetting. We are also mindful that, for some, the current guidance to maintain social distancing might appear nonsensical given the release from ‘lockdown’, end of shielding for the most vulnerable, reopening of businesses and schools. However, none of these measures were intended to encourage the rise in mass gatherings. Please, for all our sakes, adhere to social distancing, avoid mass gatherings and parties. Protect our charities, community groups and volunteers and our colleagues in the Council, Police and Health Services. Remember, we do not yet have control of this virus in the UK so there is a real risk of passing COVID-19 onto family and friends. From there it will spread throughout our communities and across the city. It’s a long haul, we realise that, but surely we have come too far and sacrificed too much to let all our efforts be in vain."