Coronavirus: Traders’ fears after Billingsgate Fish market customers fail to follow social distancing rules

People failing to adhere to the two metres apart rule at Billingsgate Market. Picture: Steve Monagha

People failing to adhere to the two metres apart rule at Billingsgate Market. Picture: Steve Monaghan/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Traders at Billingsgate Fish Market say they are being “forced” to close due to a lack of protection from coronavirus.

Steve Monaghan, who runs John Stockwell, closed his shop at the Poplar market on Saturday for the first time in 28 years after customers failed to adhere to the two metre apart rule.

Photographs taken on Friday and Saturday morning show people standing close together while wearing surgical face masks or scarves.

Mr Monaghan said he has decided to close until further notice as he fears for his employees’ safety.

He added he is one of eight stalls that shut at Billingsgate on Saturday and a further eight are planning to close this week after selling off their stock.

He said: “Some people are closing because their suppliers are drying up but people like myself didn’t feel there was enough being done to reduce as much risk as possible for myself, my staff and the public.

“I could trade but there wasn’t anyone implementing any of the government procedures. It’s poor, really, really poor.

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“It was worrying me more and more every night and in the end I took a decision we were safer at home.”

Mr Monaghan, who gave his workers protective gear and antibacterial gel, said notices advising people to stay two metres apart were placed around the fish market on Friday but were largely ignored by customers.

There are around 40 stalls at Billingsgate Market but some are owned by the same company, meaning that one company’s temporary closure could result in several stalls shutting.

Mr Monaghan employs nine full-time staff and three part-time workers who he has paid for this month and will place on furlough in the future.

“I’m going to review the situation every two weeks but it looks like it’s going to be (closed) for two months I should think,” he added.

The closure is likely to have a knock-on effect on other businesses.

Michelle Solomons, who runs Essex-based delivery service Billingsgate Fish By Michelle, has told her customers that she will only be selling frozen fish next week as she is unsure what will be on offer from Tuesday.

She said: “Some of my customers fall into the vulnerable category, and I’ll feel terrible if I can’t provide for them.

“The fact that a massive company like Stockwell’s is being forced to close, I don’t know what that means for them, but they’ve been down there for generations.

“It’s just such a shame if it ends up being the closure of the market completely. No one knows what’s going to happen. It’s really sad.”

A spokesman for City of London Corporation, which runs the market, said: “The welfare of staff, traders and customers is the top priority when it comes to operating Billingsgate Market.

“A number of steps have been introduced to ensure a safe environment is maintained. This includes limiting the number of people in the market, extra policing to ensure the Government’s instructions are enforced, additional hand sanitisers and clear signage. We will continue to follow official guidance on Covid-19.

“Our wholesale markets have been providing quality produce to Londoners for centuries and they continue to play a vital role in the capital’s food supply at these testing times.”