Health boss says it would be ‘reckless’ for Southend fireworks display to go ahead

Southend’s public health boss has said it would be “reckless” for the town’s annual fireworks display to go ahead due to the growing risk to both residents and visitors.

Krishna Ramkhelawon, director of public health at Southend Council, rejected claims from seafront traders that the risk of the virus is “miniscule” and revealed infections in the borough are rising each day.

He said the latest data shows the incidence rate – which is the number of positive cases per 100,000 people – has now risen to 14.7 which is higher than during the peak of the pandemic.

With that number continuing to grow each day and the Government introducing restrictions on gatherings of more than six people indoors and outdoors, the health boss said it would be “reckless” to go ahead with the event.

He said: “The main event site is the central seafront and putting any form of control and mitigation for infection spread would be close to impossible.

“We will have people gathering in large groups on balconies, and local food businesses and licensed premises, and not just for the short duration of the fireworks display, but before and after the event.

“With low level and dwindling adherence to the existing public health measures in place, we also now have the ‘rule of six’ to consider.

“Putting up an event without any real chance of managing all vantage points for compliance with good public health measures, will be reckless on our part, with our incidence rate remaining high – currently it is 14.7 per 100,000.”

Furthermore, he said the council had a “duty” to consult neighbouring authorities under the council’s Local Outbreak Control Plan because it could impact their residents and all similar events in the region have not received approval.

It comes just days after Mr Ramkhelawon urged residents to keep following social distancing and wear masks.

Southend has not had the same level of infections as the rest of the East of England but if the infections rate continues to rise in the way that it is, he said the virus will return to care homes and to the elderly community who are most at risk of hospitalisation.

The council’s chief executive, Alison Griffin also responded to calls for a review of the decision on fireworks, stating she wants to support these kinds of events but it is an “unprecedented” situation.

She said: “Public protection has to be at the heart of the decision making process and we are entering a period of seasonal flu adding to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The event takes place on open public space with limited ability to control numbers. The main event site is the central seafront – which is why it will be valued by the seafront businesses in particular.

“Establishing any form of control and mitigation for infection spread would be challenging in the extreme.”

Council’s top boss suggests fireworks could be rescheduled to spring

Southend Council’s chief executive has suggested the town’s autumn fireworks display could be rescheduled to the spring.

Seafront traders have been urging the council to rethink a recommendation for the popular seafront fireworks display to be cancelled over fears it will only worsen the already fast-growing number of Covid-19 infections in the borough.

The traders believe that cancelling the event will be fatal for their businesses and that the decision has been made despite the risk of Covid-19 being “extremely low”.

But the council’s chief executive Alison Griffin has stuck by the decision.

She said: “There do not appear to be any other organised events of this type taking place on public land in the region.

“This in itself would impact on participation and most likely see a huge influx from a wide area adding to the issues of transmission.”

She added that the council is considering a plan that could see the fireworks display be held in the spring, an option which she said, “may be a viable option”.

However, it is unlikely this will offer any reassurance to seafront businesses who have warned their businesses are already facing severe financial pressures after missing the peak summer season.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter