Rumors and Threats: What Happened When Covid-19 Closed Our Ads | News from the world


MArk Wilson’s first visit to the pub in months has started off perfectly. The 30-year-old met some of his closest friends at a vaping bar, Vape Escape, near the windswept seaside at Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset. “I was happy to see people again and find a pint in a pub,” he says. “We watched the Man United game and they won – so I was in a good mood. “As Saturday evening progressed, the group moved to another pub in the peaceful resort area, about a 45-minute drive from Bristol. The six friends moved back and forth between the two pubs before calling it a night. “I was pretty happy,” said Wilson. “But it was all good. ”

However, everything changed when Wilson (not his real name) arrived at his parents’ house in the city just after 1 a.m. He opened an email from NHS Test and Trace, which had arrived at 12:30 p.m. He revealed that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Where are the pubs.

“It was a heart to heart moment,” he says. “It was a pure shock. I immediately texted the people I was with and the next morning I informed the pubs. ”

Wilson had left for a test before he returned to work at a city store. He had no symptoms and no reason to suspect that he could have come into contact with the virus, but feared that he would catch it in the service of customers. “I thought, I’m going to take a test to find out if I got it at work,” he says.

The news of his positive result came first to the co-owner of Vape Escape, Leanne Underhill. Underhill, 40, immediately closed the bar. She made a series of desperate calls to Somerset County Council and the police before finally moving on to the NHS Test and Trace. “They asked me what I had done and took my postal code – that’s it. They didn’t take any further details, ”she said, sitting at a table in her recently thoroughly cleaned bar. “We were basically left to deal with it ourselves. ”

It was his only interaction with the service, led by former TalkTalk CEO and peer curator Dido Harding. “My perception was that companies keep all contact information and then pass it on in the event of an outbreak,” says Underhill. “But that’s not what happened. ”

Instead, Underhill and another staff member spent Sunday contacting the 42 people who were at the bar on Saturday. She even took it upon herself to examine the video surveillance to identify the people who were in close contact with Wilson. “People were extremely worried. We’re a small town – we don’t expect that kind of thing, ”she says. Nobody told him what to say to his anxious regulars.

Later that evening, Underhill drove three staff members 23 miles to a test center in Taunton. She then carried out a thorough cleaning of the premises, working all night.

“NHS Test and Trace couldn’t even tell me if I needed to test the staff,” she says. All tests, including his, returned negative Monday morning.

The other pub visited by Wilson’s group, the Lighthouse, has not yet reopened. The owner, Jess Green, closed on Monday and, like Underhill, contacted 90 people who had visited Saturday herself. “We didn’t have to call anyone – it should have been Test and Trace,” she says, sitting in the empty bar with her one-way system still glued to the floor. “We chose to do it on our own because we knew it was the quickest way for our customers to know the truth.”

Leanne Underhill co-owner of Vape Escape. “People were extremely worried.” Photography: Tom Wall / The Observer

However, wild and unfounded rumors were starting to spread in the city, fueled by fear and anger on social networks. Some have said that Wilson knew he was infected before he left or that he worked in a nursing home. Others swore that he had visited all the pubs in the city. His identity has become an open secret, discussed in cafes, shops and street corners. Comments calling him “totally irresponsible”, “ignorant and selfish” and calling him to “be imprisoned for not listening” appeared on the social media pages of the two pubs.

Wilson, who suffers from anxiety, left Facebook to escape what he considered a torrent of abuse. “I couldn’t bear to see it,” he says. “People were reporting that I already knew I had it and stuff like that. But I would never go out knowing I had it – or even if I thought I could have it. ”

The police in Avon and Somerset even had to speak to a person who posted a “threatening” message on social media. “Someone posted” I can’t wait to see it “on Facebook,” says Wilson. “The police went around and talked to him. He apologized and said that he had lost a family member to the coronavirus and that he had been drinking. ”

In the midst of all this, Wilson spoke to the NHS Test and Trace for just over an hour, detailing his movements for the past two weeks. “I went through everything I remembered with them,” he says. The service then contacted his relatives and asked them to isolate themselves.

Underhill and her family were also chased, with some in the city furious that she reopened the bar on Monday. She says her 18-year-old daughter ran away from a city supermarket after other buyers shouted at her that she was “infected” and that she should be isolated. It got so bad that Underhill resigned from his other job as director of human resources for a manufacturing company on Tuesday. “I have to protect my staff from abuse and take care of my family. There is no way at the moment to do all of this while working full time, ”she said.

These reactions worry Somerset director of public health Trudi Grant. She says people shouldn’t be discouraged from showing up for tests. “It’s really worrying,” she says. “We want people to feel like they can take a test and tell the right people at the right time. If they feel that they cannot do it, it will not be useful for us to manage the local epidemic or the national pandemic. “

Grant says Wilson and the two pubs really deserve thanks. “He acted responsibly as an individual,” she says. “Companies have taken a very cautious approach. They did their part. ”

She adds that business owners shouldn’t need to contact clients if they get a positive case. His team will release more information to local businesses in the coming weeks. “They don’t have to call,” she says. “They should call Public Health England, who will identify with them who is in close contact.” ”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said: “We would like to reassure the public that anyone identified as being close to the positive will be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service and advised to isolate themselves for 14 days. , even if they have no symptoms. Pubs were advised to take appropriate public health measures to ensure the safety of other employees and customers. ”

Back in Burnham-on-Sea, the feelings are still alive. A woman at Somerset & Dorset pub, who refused to give her name, said, “Apparently he came out knowing he should have waited at home until he got the results. (In fact, the NHS advice is to self-isolate if you have received a positive test result or have symptoms of coronavirus, or if any of these things is true of someone in your household or support bubble.)

Other drinkers in the downtown pub – which itself had to close on Thursday night after another individual tested positive – are quick to defend Wilson. “He has become the number one public enemy,” said Andrew Lowe, 47. “But he didn’t come out deliberately with the virus. He didn’t know he had it and as soon as he knew it, he informed all the pubs he had visited. He did the right thing. ”

Wilson is recovering from the ordeal with the support of his family and friends. However, he is concerned that his treatment may cause others at his post to think twice: “If someone else in Burnham catches the virus now, he will not want to make it public because he could suffer the same kind.” of abuse. “


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