4 June 2020

LRF Chair encourages West Yorkshire communities to continue following social distancing advice following easing of lockdown

Dave Walton, co-Chair of West Yorkshire Prepared and Deputy Chief of the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service:

I have the utmost professional admiration for my colleagues in the West Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum. Members of all key organisations have, until recently, met every day of the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure our region is as safe as we can make it.

Leaders of local councils, emergency services, utility providers, voluntary organisations and support officers seconded from the military have worked through weekends, late nights and bank holidays, making personal sacrifices to make this work as best we can. It’s fair to say it’s not always been easy, and local priorities have not always been reflected in nationally developed policy, but we’ve made it work. There has been a terrible and tragic human cost of the pandemic, and pain felt by so many people, but collectively we have got over the peak of infection and demand on the NHS. That’s why we have been able to relax our daily, very focussed, arguably lifesaving, meeting regime as group, and allow ourselves the time to think about the future.

You can only imagine, therefore, how worried we are when we watch the scenes that have unfolded as the UK starts to emerge from lockdown. How concerned we all are that the hard work and sacrifices made by so many will be cast aside as the race to ‘get back to normal’ risks an inevitable march toward a second peak of infection. We’ll all put the hours in again if it happens, that’s what we do, but it need not happen.

Just last weekend, the Association of Directors of Public Health reminded us that the beginning of the easing of lockdown is a ‘critical moment’ for everyone in the battle against the virus.

That is why we are asking the public to heed all the advice being given, particularly around social distancing and personal hygiene, and most definitely in relation to large groups – this is where we will win or lose any battle against a second peak – a battle we need not fight if we follow the guidance. We know ‘local lockdowns’ may be required if infection rates start to rise again. West Yorkshire, to some extent, can control its own destiny.

Understandably after a period of lockdown so alien to us all, people want to get outside and socialise – particularly when the sun shines as it has done recently. This is when we become vulnerable though. Ever larger groups start to merge into a crowd, risky behaviours increase after a drink or two, and all of a sudden the perfect conditions exist for that fateful march toward a new peak. The guidance requires common sense and respect for others – that’s all.

Other risks are rising as well – speeding vehicles when more pedestrians and cyclists are sharing the roads, careless use of disposable BBQs, unnecessary risk-taking in and around open water, and inconsiderate parking in high visitor areas that hinder the emergency services progress. It’s not just about the immediate health-related consequences of risky behaviours. We are seeing increased littering, the use of public spaces as toilets because it’s not yet safe to open public facilities, and general nuisance caused to those who live in these areas.

None of this is inevitable, all of it is about individuals making choices about their behaviours, exercising restraint and showing respect for others.

Our collective plea to you is to not relax your awareness, to follow the guidance about social distancing and personal hygiene, and dare I say it – exercise some common sense. Don’t waste the hard times we’ve come through. We are good at what we do, we exist as organisations to serve the community and protect it. As individuals, as members of the communities of West Yorkshire, our simple ask is that you please help us to help you, your families and friends.