‘Covid walk-in test centre on our doorstep risks infecting more people’ Tower Hamlets petitioners fear
PUBLISHED: 15:13 16 November 2020 | UPDATED: 16:10 16 November 2020
A mass protest has erupted over the of a walk-in Covid test centre set up in a Tower Hamlets Council facility in the Commercial Road close to a crowded market place.
Campaigners have sent a petition to the town hall to remove the government’s test-and-trace centre which has been installed at the Watney Market Ideas Store public library since September.
It is sited just a few yards from the market place where traders and shop owners say it has scared shoppers away in the run up to Christmas—first revealed in the East London Advertiser on November 12.
Talks have already been held with the authority’s Covid director by Opposition councillor Rabina Khan whose Shadwell constituency includes Watney Market.
“I am angry about where this Covid centre has been sited,” Cllr Khan told the paper.
“There was no public consultation and I’ve now received complaints from people of all backgrounds and ages raising concern and from a parent at a school close by.”
She has called for the Covid centre to be shifted to “a less congested area” and suggests a more effective spot would be the Shadwell centre in The Highway which has “lots of space” and even its own car-park out of sight where even a drive-through testing facility could be set up.
“But using Watney Market is not appropriate,” she insisted. “We need a test-and-trace centre, but done properly. No-one was consulted. At least give us the curtesy—we know our area.”
The petition is being presented to Tower Hamlets Council’s full meeting on November 18, demanding the government test-and-trace facility is removed “to somewhere less congested and more suitable with consultation from the local residents”.
It adds: “Watney Market has a high concentration of Bangladeshi people who are suffering the most from the Coronavirus pandemic.
“If potentially-infected people come to an area where the people are most susceptible to this virus, would this not increase the infection rate in this area and may even lead to more fatalities?”
The petition follows revelations in the Advertiser that traders blame the centre for scaring shoppers away in the run-up to Christmas.
Clothing store owner Faruq Uddin said: “People are scared to come here. I get customers phoning every day saying they’re not coming.”
It had also caused conflict when security guards rushed out of the building to confront Mr Uddin and a photographer taking pictures in the market.
Other traders joined in. Stallholder Mohammed Anayet waved his fist shouting: “People are being put off coming here. They don’t feel safe.”
Jewellery seller Mdmahfujur Rahman said: “People who have symptoms are coming to the market because the centre is so close.”
The centre is part of the government’s NHS Test and Trace programme, with others in the East End including Bethnal Green public library and Mile End’s Ecology pavilion.
A town hall statement last week pointed out: “Anyone attending an appointment is provided with guidance on adhering to social distancing, wearing a face covering before and after the test and to and from the 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.”
The council was urging shoppers to plan any visits to markets as “only essential stalls remain open” during lockdown.
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