Serious public disorder could “crush attempts to control Covid-19”

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Widespread disorder is ‘not inevitable’ but military support would be needed, said a document reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) (Photo: Getty / Rex)

Serious public unrest could “overwhelm all attempts” to control the coronavirus crisis, prompting military intervention, science advisers have warned.

Tensions arising from the pandemic have become “inextricably linked” to structural inequalities and international events, leaving the UK in a “volatile and extremely complex situation,” according to an article reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) two days before pubs reopened in England.

Behavioral science experts say widespread unrest is not certain to happen – but police “are in a much weaker position in terms of their ability to deal with these threats” in “Public disorder and public health: threats and contemporary risks ”.

The work, by Professors Cliff Stott and Mark Harrison, reads: ‘While widespread urban disorder is not inevitable, at present the situation in the UK is precariously balanced and the smallest policing error (whether perceived or real, inside or outside the UK) or politics could trigger a dynamic that will make managing Covid-19 nearly impossible.

“Put simply, a serious deterioration in law and order could crush all attempts to control contagion, overwhelm hospitals, the criminal justice system and hamper economic recovery. ”

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The authors wrote that there is a growing sense of “racial injustice, inequality and discrimination” felt among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

They cite the Black Lives Matter protests that followed George Floyd’s death in May, also noting counter-protests by far-right groups, including the Democratic Football Lads Alliance.

Far-right groups are mobilizing on a scale not seen in a decade and exploiting fatal stabbing incidents in Reading, London and Glasgow, scientists say.

Serious public unrest could 'overwhelm attempts to control coronavirus crisis'

Police “are in a much weaker position in terms of their ability to deal with these threats,” the newspaper said (Photo: Getty Images)

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Cliff / SOPA Images / REX (10727829th) Police officers wearing masks try to persuade campaigners to leave Westminster Bridge Road as National Health Service (NHS) staff protest their exclusion from a raise in recently announced salary in the public sector, protest outside St Thomas' Hospital in London. Around 900,000 public sector workers across the UK are expected to receive an above-inflation pay rise this year as a thank you from the Treasury for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. The pay rise is exclusive to nurses and other frontline staff, however, due to a three-year pay deal they negotiated in 2018, which led them to march in protest on Parliament Street bound for Downing Street in London. Demonstration by NHS workers demanding a pay rise in London, UK - July 29, 2020

Police officers wearing masks try to persuade activists to leave Westminster Bridge Road as National Health Service (NHS) staff protest their exclusion from a recently announced public sector pay hike (Photo: David Cliff / SOPA Images / REX)

While talking about the mess, they also talk about the major incident declared at Bournemouth in June and the large-scale rallies and conflicts that have arisen from the resumption of football.

Writing in early July, Professors Stott and Harrison warned that local lockdowns could cause furor if they happen on the occasion of Eid – which became the case yesterday when Matt Hancock announced new restrictions on some parts of northern England just hours before their entry into force.

As large-scale protests and unlicensed music events have increased, public health messages have “become less clear,” the newspaper says.

There has been “a lack of a clear and coherent message to which all must adhere, namely who can go where, when, with whom and with what precautions”.

Any disorder caused by inequality or a scapegoat across the country could be on a scale equal to or greater than the London riots of 2011, it is claimed.

This will mean that officers will be redeployed from different roles, which will affect the ability of the police force to execute the “status quo”

The document states: “If such a situation were to develop, a security crisis would ensue, undermining public confidence in the government and catastrophically undermining its plans to revive Covid-19.”

The report came to public attention after authorities in Bournemouth and Brighton were forced to take action as crowds poured in on the third hottest day on record.

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