22 September 2020
What is Talking Points?
Cambridge News asks a representative of each local political party to answer a question on a local issue in just 300 words. The answers are then published in the physical copy of the Cambridge News every fortnight. Here, we share our response to the question.
Today's Question: what would be the benefits/drawbacks of appointing a number of Covid Marshals/Environmental Health Officers in Cambridge?
Before condemnation of disobedience, members of the public doing their best to reduce coronavirus transmission should be celebrated. We must recognise that many people have made personal sacrifices to keep family and friends safe. This is a very complex time, and the balance of personal freedoms and public safety are not easy to navigate.
Inevitably, there must be disincentives for actions which put public health at risk such as attending large gatherings, however, the continued confusion due to contradictions in the rules, frequent changes, and a general lack of clarity has left people frustrated and tired.
Covid marshals could become a trusted source of information for how to navigate higher risk locations such as crowded streets or shopping centres, and general advice on the coronavirus status. However, central government has given no resources, no additional staff and no powers of enforcement to local government to run this system. There is also a national shortage of environmental health officers due to harsh cuts under recent austerity measures. It is further likely that Covid marshals would be at serious risk during confrontational situations. No one should be deployed to any role like this without comprehensive training. Private institutions such as the Universities should be stricter in their internal workings, only allowing larger group sizes where unavoidable, as in some school-based situations.
This disease is unlikely to disappear soon, “new normal” likely becoming our way of life until more is understood about treatment of the virus. There needs to be an effective system of communicating risk (for example, using a clear traffic light system) so the public can understand the changing situation easily. Some form of ‘Covid marshal’ may help with this, but if they do materialise, they should be information sources only rather than a replacement of the police.
Our response was written by Matt Howard. Matt is a City Council candidate with a background in chemical engineering; he has a particular interest in how local communities could be structured in a healthier and more sustainable way.