Covid walk-in test centre scares off Christmas shoppers from Watney Market say traders
- Credit: Mike Brooke
A Covid walk-in test centre set up at Tower Hamlets Idea Store public library is scaring shoppers from the normally crowded Watney Market just a few feet away in the run-up to Christmas.
That’s the claim by market traders after the Shadwell test centre opened in September as the first in the East End where anyone with suspected symptoms can get tested.
They’re worried about it being located on the corner of the traditional street market where shoppers normally pack the parade of shops and stalls.
“We are suffering because the centre is so close to us,” clothing store owner Faruq Uddin told the East London Advertiser. “People are scared to come here.
“Having the Covid centre at the Idea Store worries people. I get customers phoning every day saying they’re not coming.”
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It has already caused conflict when security guards who rushed out of the building to confront Mr Uddin and a press photographer taking pictures in the market, witnessed and recorded by the Advertiser.
The guards told him in heated language that it was “a government building that couldn’t be photographed”, even though Faruk was on open public ground outside the barrier during the confrontation.
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“It’s just a building,” Faruq shouted back. “We can take pictures. They don’t want us to take photographs. Why?”
Other traders joined in. Stallholder Mohammed Anayet waved his fist a shouting: “People are being put off coming here. They don’t feel safe.”
Watney Market survived as “essential trading” during the first Lockdown, the traders assured.
Mohammed’s nephew Kalam Miah, another stallholder, said: “The Covid centre is making people scared to shop here. We had a lot of customers before it opened.”
The testing centre at the Idea Store is part of the government’s NHS Test and Trace programme, with three others set up in the East End including Bethnal Green public library and Mile End’s Ecology pavilion.
A town hall statement to the Advertiser last night pointed out: “Anyone attending an appointment is provided with guidance including adhering to social distancing, wearing a face covering before and after the test and to and from the test centre.
“Three of the local testing sites including Watney Market operate on a walk-through basis so that people without a car can access a test as soon as they need to, which is vital in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. There is very little risk of increased transmission of Covid-19 with all of the safety measures in place.”
The council is urging shoppers to “carefully plan any visits to markets”. It adds: “Only essential stalls remain open during lockdown.”
But the businesses were suggesting the centre should have been set up at the “more suitable” Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, the other side of Commercial Road, fearing that “people with symptoms are coming to the market because it’s so close”.