Over the past few weeks, a vast number of protests have been taking place across the globe, sparked by the tragic murder of George Floyd. These demonstrations have gone ahead despite the fact that we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, defying government health guidelines.
While Covid-19 is a novel threat, racism is not, which is why these protests are vital at this point in time. The social, economic, and political inequalities facilitated by systemic racism cause damage to people’s health, as reflected by the disproportionate number of those in BAME groups who die from Covid-19. These protests are illustrative of racism being a public health emergency.
The government has already released a statement explaining outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones, as they minimise the spread of the virus, hence why outdoor exercise and other activities are now permitted. Therefore, coronavirus is more likely to spread at an indoor rally than at an outdoor protest. In the UK, Black Lives Matter activists have stressed the importance of following the appropriate social distancing guidelines at their marches and have encouraged those who want to attend to wear masks and gloves. Additionally, at some of the marches in London, there were people on hand to give out masks to the protesters.
One way to reduce the likelihood of a second spike might be to follow up these protests with more rigorous testing for those who attended. This would make it easier to control any potential outbreak caused by the gatherings, as well as mitigate against the health risk of attending. This has been successfully carried out in some US states. For example, in Massachusetts they have urged anyone who has taken part in the protests to get tested within two weeks, in order to track the infection rate more efficiently.
Before attributing the blame for any future rise in the infection rate to the recent BLM protests, it is worth considering many of the other restrictions the British government has lifted during this period, such as the reopening of schools and non-essential shops. The easing of these measures also has the potential to cause a spike in infections.
Nevertheless, there have been calls from police officials for the UK government to ban demonstrations whilst the country is still under threat from the virus. Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, Ken Marsh, called for Home Secretary Priti Patel to ban these protests on health grounds. However, scientists and medical professionals have made it clear Covid-19 will be with us for a while, meaning we cannot simply halt these protests until the virus disappears because the issues of systemic racism will continue to damage our society in the meantime.
While concerns surrounding a second wave of Covid-19 cases are valid, racism is a much larger virus, and has been present in our society for far too long. These protests act as an opportunity to change these circumstances, by raising awareness and shining a light on issues millions of Black Britons face on a day-to-day basis. While there are still other ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement, such as signing petitions and donating, it is important not to neglect the value of protesting. Seeing it on the street has more of an impact, as it demonstrates the issue is right on our doorstep.
These protests have illustrated room for real change in society, the sort of change we cannot allow a global pandemic to prevent.