Images above: Cllr Joanna Biddolph and Cllr Patrick Barr

Row over Councillor’s ‘go shopping’ advice

A row has erupted on social media over Cllr Joanna Biddolph’s advice to people to support Chiswick’s independent businesses by going shopping.

An article on the W4 website headlined ‘Local Traders Begin the Fight Back Against Coronavirus‘, published on Friday 20 March, reported that Councillor Joanna Biddolph and her colleagues have spoken to many of the local independent shops who say they badly need residents to support them through this crisis. They want to get the message out that Chiswick Is Still Open For Business.

The leader of the Conservative councillors in Chiswick is quoted as saying:

“Though we must, of course, follow guidelines on social distancing and working from home it is vital to support traders. Our local shops are helping us do this by introducing special services and being innovative.”

She has published a list of shops open for business, which includes those selling non essential items such as: Marmalade Jewellery – ‘from gems and silver to diamonds and platinum’, Insider Dealings – ‘interior design, fabrics, wallpapers, carpets, etc’, Top Hat dry cleaning, CarpetNWood – flooring and Billings & Edmonds, which sells school uniforms.

On Twitter she urged “Please support our independents in this so tricky time”.

The reaction on social media has been swift and condemnatory:

Paul Campbell: ‘Delete this tweet. Protect the NHS. Stop this irresponsible behaviour now’.

Matt Swain: ‘Our NHS frontline staff are begging us to stay at home and here you are as Local Cllr declaring Chiswick Open and encouraging people to go out and shop with the pretence that they socially distance. stop it, stop it, stop it!

The article appeared to be co-signed by Cllr Patrick Barr, who is professionally a nurse and Cllr Gabriella Giles, who works for International SOS, ‘The International SOS Group of Companies is in the business of saving lives, protecting your global workforce from health and security threats’. Their names were listed at the bottom of the article along with ‘Councillors for Turnham Green, Chiswick Homefields, Chiswick Riverside plus Ealing Chiswick Shops Task Force’.

Dr Sheila Hunt, who started Grove Park Surgery in 1988 and ran it for nearly 30 years, told me:

“I really want to stress that people should stay home and only go out for essentials. That should minimise the chances of infection, either catching the virus or passing it on to others. And of course, they shouldn’t stockpile”.

Government advice: ‘stay at home’

Government guidelines on social distancing advise the public: ‘stay at home and limit all but essential travel… Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces’.

The advice issued by Government on their Coronavirus web pages says: ‘Everyone to stay at home unless they need to get essential supplies such as food and medicines’.

‘The decision to introduce further measures has been taken based on the latest advice from the world-leading health and scientific experts advising the government’.

Images above: Professor Helen Ward; one of Imperial’s researchers who are racing to create a vaccine to combat the coronavirus COVID-19.

Imperial College – Not enough people social distancing

A report by Imperial College published 22/03/2020 find that while most people are washing their hands, only half are practising social distancing. Their report says 83% of adults are washing their hands more, but only 50% are avoiding social events.

Helen Ward, Professor of Public Health at Imperial says:

“While it is encouraging that people are aware and taking some steps to protect themselves and others, there is a need for everyone to take far more action on social distancing if we are to stem the epidemic.

“Many people are unable to work from home because of the nature of their jobs, and these are often those with low household income and few savings. It is essential to ensure they are not left more vulnerable as a result.”

Images above: Graphics from BBC News video on guidelines for social distancing

Social distancing – 2 metres

What exactly is the advice on social distancing? BBC News has published a video explaining the guidelines. Health reporter Laura Foster explains: “imagine you’re holding a big broom. You’ll be the correct distance away if you can’t touch anyone with it.” That would not be possible in some of the shops listed in Cllr Biddoph’s article. They are just too small.

Councillor’s advice ‘totally irresponsible and immoral’

There were many angry comments in response to Cllr Biddolph’s article on the W4 Forum.

Richard Potts: ‘What an earth are you playing at? It is totally irresponsible and immoral to be encouraging people to go shopping at this time. This is not plucky British defiance against a threatening enemy – this is a killer virus that you get from touching people or things people have touched or getting close to people.

‘Take-away coffee – ice cream – or pin ball are not necessities. These are activities which increase risk of contact and passing the virus on and which end up killing more people. UK is already trending faster growth on the virus than Italy. Please read the reports and studies. If we don’t slow it we are likely to have hundreds of thousands of deaths because the NHS won’t be able to treat us.

‘Please focus on shops selling necessities. This is not the time to rejuvinate the high street’.

Richard Cathcart: ‘Anyone who is thinking of popping out for anything other than an essential reason really should listen to this Nolan Show interview with an NHS Intensive Care Consultant – sobering stuff indeed’:

In it an A&E Consultant, Al, tells the Nolan Show in Manchester: “I’ve just come back from a shift that I’ve finished… I just wanted to say to anyone who’s listening, please, please, please stay indoors and for as long as you possibly can, isolate yourselves… Our wards are filling very, very quickly at the moment. So far we haven’t got to the stage where we don’t have a ventilator for everyone, but we are mentally preparing ourselves for the stage when we’ll have to make the call as to who gets to have a ventilator and who doesn’t’.

Sam McCourt, who ran Chief Coffee until it closed on Friday 20 March:

‘Hi Richard, completely agree with you.  In fact I believe this story should be removed’.

Shelagh Lafferty:

Are you insane? Are you not listening to advice from Government and Experts? You are putting the lives not only of the public at risk but those of our medical service personnel. People like my sister who is mother to 3 young boys and a hospital consultant or how about my best friend who is also a mother of 3 young boys and a children’s ICU consultant.

Do you seriously think some interior design fripperies are worth their lives?

Selfish, selfish, selfish!

Yes I am hopping mad and disgusted at this  advice. This isn’t some British Bulldog spirit post Blitz ‘Keep Calm and Carry On- situation – this is a deadly crisis.

Shops deciding for themselves to close

Some shops which sell non-essential goods have decided for themselves that they should close. Greige, on Bedford Corner, which sells homeware items, has closed its doors for the time being. Penny Ledbury, who runs Chiswick Lighting said:

‘We at Chiswick Lighting have also decided to close the shop door. We are answering calls and emails and will deliver locally if we are able and it is safe to do so’.

Response to criticism

The Chiswick Calendar asked Cllr Biddolph for a comment. She gave us a statement saying:

‘When the prime minister made his announcement about what should close he closed cafes, pubs, restaurants (and others) – but not for takeaway. He did not close shops. He might close shops but he hasn’t done so yet. It is for shop owners to decide whether they should close, not me or anyone else. Social distancing was the policy, as was being very careful about hygiene including handwashing. They still are. We are being asked to stay at home, not compelled to stay at home.’

W4 has modified its headline since Friday, changing it to: ‘How Local Traders Plan to Operate during Covid-19′ and adding the sentence:

‘Please do not visit any shops if you have symptoms of coronavirus and, if you do go to shops, please observe social distancing guidelines as outlined by the government. Government advice is that you should only go out if absolutely necessary’.

As teh row continued on Sunday 21 March, a variety of views were expressed in social media. Among them:

Sam Evans: ‘If keeping a business open while taking every precaution such as social distancing presents an unacceptable risk then the government should mandatorily close them’.

Anita Blake: ‘At this stage it may well be that we have more deaths from small business owners taking their own life due to financial ruin than die as a result of someone visiting their premises’.

Andrew O’Sullivan: ‘ Strident views about not going out are quickly being adopted by virtue signallers everywhere to demonstrate how much better they are than everyone else’.

Warning from the Prime Minister

Also on Sunday the Telegraph newspaper reported that the Prime Minister is urging people to stay home:

‘The NHS could be “overwhelmed” like the Italian health system in just a fortnight, Boris Johnson has warned, as official guidance paved the way for British doctors to prioritise the coronavirus patients who are most likely to survive.

‘In his starkest warning yet, the Prime Minister said the UK was only “two or three” weeks behind Italy, where the death toll from Covid-19 rose by 793 in 24 hours.

‘Urging people to heed advice to “stay at home” in order to save “literally thousands of lives”, Mr Johnson said: “Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed.”‘

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Facebook group set up to support vulnerable residents

See also: Churches live-streaming services