Serious public disorder could ‘overwhelm all attempts’ to control the coronavirus crisis, resulting in army intervention, scientific advisers have warned.
Tensions arising from the pandemic have become ‘inextricably bound’ with structural inequalities and international events, leaving the UK in a ‘volatile and highly complex situation’, according to a paper considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) two days before pubs reopened in England.
Behavioural science experts claim widespread disorder is not certain to happen – but police ‘are in a far weaker position in terms of capacity to deal with these threats’ in ‘Public Disorder and Public Health: Contemporary Threats and Risks’.
The work, by Professors Cliff Stott and Mark Harrison, reads: ‘While widespread urban disorder is not inevitable, currently, the situation in the UK is precariously balanced and the smallest error in policing (whether perceived or real, inside or outside the UK) or policy could unleash a dynamic which will make the management of Covid-19 all but impossible.
‘Put simply, a serious deterioration of public order could overwhelm all attempts to control contagion, overwhelm hospitals, the criminal justice system and hinder revival of the economy.’
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The authors wrote there is an increasing 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 the death of George Floyd in May, also noting the counter-protests by extreme right-wing groups including the Democratic Football Lads Alliance.
Extreme right-wing groups are mobilising at a scale not seen for a decade, and exploiting fatal stabbing incidents in Reading, London and Glasgow, scientists claim.
While discussing disorder, they also mention the major incident declared in Bournemouth in June and the large-scale gatherings and conflicts that have come from the resumption of football.
Writing in early July, Professors Stott and Harrison warned local lockdowns could cause fury if they happened over Eid – which became the case yesterday when Matt Hancock announced new restrictions for parts of northern England mere hours before they came into force.
While large-scale protests and unlicensed music events have been on the rise, public health messaging has ‘become less clear’, the paper states.
There has been a ‘lack of clear, consistent, message for all to adhere to, re who can go where, when, with whom and with what precautions’.
Any disorder that is spurred from inequality or scapegoating across the country could be on an equal or greater scale to the 2011 London riots, it is claimed.
This will mean officers being redeployed from different roles, affecting police forces’ ability to deliver ‘business as usual’
The paper states: ‘If such a situation were to develop a security crisis would ensue, undermining public trust in Government and catastrophically undermining its Covid-19 recovery plans.’
The report was brought to public attention after authorities in Bournemouth and Brighton were forced to take action with crowds flocking on the third hottest day on record.
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