Coronavirus in Portsmouth: Chaos as Portsmouth City Council meeting abandoned as councillor tests positive for Covid

COUNCILLORS in Portsmouth have abandoned a full council meeting over Covid-19 safety fears after one politician tested positive for the virus.

Monday, 19th July 2021, 3:13 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 5:18 pm
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson at the full council meeting on July 19, 2021

Councillor Matthew Atkins was in a group meeting with some of his fellow Conservative group members on Friday and since tested positive this morning.

Politicians are gathered socially-distanced on the floor of Portsmouth Guildhall this afternoon – the second time an in-person full council meeting has taken place in the pandemic.

But it has now been abandoned amid fears Tory councillors could be close contacts of Cllr Atkins, and should be self-isolating.

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As the meeting started, Councillor Leo Madden said: ‘Some people have entered this chamber today who have been with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

‘I want to know for my safety and the safety of other people that I will not have the chance of getting Covid.’

He referenced Boris Johnson’s decision at first not to isolate after being a close contact of health secretary Sajid Javid, before then agreeing to do so.

Cllr Madden said: ‘Are we not in the same situation that the prime minister found himself in over the weekend, when he thought in some way he didn’t have to isolate but because of the outcry has now decided to self-isolate?

‘Are members who are in that situation here, and it’s not their fault, I accept that, but are they not in the same situation the prime minister is and therefore should self-isolate?’

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Chief executive David Williams told members he had informed the director of public health, Helen Atkinson.

He said he ‘can’t give you that assurance Cllr Madden’ but added: ‘I cannot instruct members to leave on that basis, I think it’s the decision of individual members.’

Ryan Brent, deputy Tory leader, said other members had been tested and were negative.

‘Every Conservative councillor here present has tested negative this morning with a lateral flow test and would be happy for the meeting to continue,’ Cllr Brent said.

Council group leaders Gerald Vernon-Jackson, for the Lib Dems, Labour’s George Fielding, Cllr Brent and Portsmouth People Group’s leader held private meetings before returning.

Chief executive Mr Williams then said: ‘Were it staff members, clearly our very strong advice and requirement of them is that if they’re in contact with someone who has tested positive for a period of time, they should self-isolate.’

Council leader Cllr Vernon-Jackson’s motion, backed by Cllr Brent, to abandon the meeting was agreed. He said the law would not allow remote hearings.

He said: ‘I think it’s absolutely essential, I think it’s absolutely crucial that we do not try to operate different standards that we expect from our staff and our children going to school.

‘I think you’re completely right that we cannot continue.’

Earlier Lib Dem Cllr Lee Hunt said he was a carer to an elderly relative.

He said: ‘I’m very concerned because I don’t want to get it, I don’t want to pass it on to a 90-year-old woman who I love very much indeed.’

As reported, Cllr Atkins previously said ‘it’s important to go back to in-person meetings’ and criticised the cost of remote hearings.

‘I hope that you all keep in the best of health,’ the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth councillor Frank Jonas said.

The next full council is in October.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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