Coronavirus: Councillors react to the suspension of local elections in May

COUNCILLORS across the Portsmouth region have reacted to the suspension of May’s local elections due to the spread of Covid-19.

By Richard Lemmer
Friday, 13th March 2020, 8:09 pm
Updated Saturday, 14th March 2020, 9:38 am

The government has announced that local and mayoral elections will be postponed for a year to May 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes after the Electoral Commission recommended a postponement until the autumn,

Elections were due in 118 English councils, the London Assembly, and seven English regional mayor contests, as well as police and crime commissioner polls.

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Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Portsmouth City Council leader, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said it was ‘probably the right decision’ – but it would be ‘difficult’ for councillors who had planned to stand down this year.

The Liberal Democrat councillor said: ‘I was at a meeting with the chief executive of Public Health England with other council leaders, and the feeling from other people there was that (local elections) should be delayed.

‘We want to cut down the possibility of unnecessary spreading.’

He added: ‘There were some (councillors) who were not going to fight for their seats – they will be here for another year.

Donna Jones had been selected to stand as the Conservative party candidate for Hampshire police and crime commissioner.

‘It will be difficult for them.’

The decision to postpone elections attracted support across the political spectrum within the council, with the group leaders for both the Labour party and the Conservative party supporting the government’s decision.

Donna Jones, Conservative group leader who was due to stand down to become her party’s candidate for Hampshire police and crime commissioner, said she was ‘disappointed’ that elections had been suspended – but public safety was ‘the number one priority.’

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Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan. Picture: Habibur Rahman

She said: ‘Whilst I’m disappointed the police and crime elections have been postponed, I support the government in taking all steps necessary to keep the British public safe.’

Stephen Morgan, Labour group leader and Portsmouth South MP, said: ‘Labour recognise the growing public concern as the virus spreads and the number of cases rise and the widespread adoption of greater social distancing measures in other neighbouring states.

It is therefore the right thing to do to postpone the local elections here in Portsmouth, and across the country.’

Council leaders in Fareham, Gosport, and Havant backed the move, which required a ‘pretty quick’ decision, according to Fareham Borough Council leader Sean Woodward.

Cllr Woodward said: ‘I think it had to be done in electoral terms – the government had to make a decision pretty quickly because of the notice of elections.

‘And having enough staff for the running of the election is a real concern.’

Havant Borough Council leader Michael Wilson said the council had had no warning about the announcement.

He said: ‘Obviously we didn’t hear any sooner than the announcement.

‘But I can say that it’s a sensible decision.’

Gosport Borough Council leader Mark Hook said it was an ‘inevitable’ announcement – albeit a disappointing one for candidates hoping to stand this year.

He said: ‘It’s frustrating that they have put all the work in – but there is next year.’

The last time elections were delayed was in 2001, during the foot and mouth outbreak.

The coronavirus outbreak has seen 798 confirmed cases across the UK, with ten people dying after contracting the illness.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS