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Thousands of kids skip school for Greta’s address to a huge crowd, amid police warnings and a coronavirus risk. What can go wrong?

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Thousands of kids skip school for Greta’s address to a huge crowd, amid police warnings and a coronavirus risk. What can go wrong?
Up to 30,000 people were estimated to have seen Greta Thunberg’s ‘School Strike for Climate’ in Bristol. But with police warnings and the shadow of coronavirus looming over Europe, should parents be condoning their kids’ activism?

As sporting events around the world are canceled and schools across the UK weigh up the prospect of closing their doors for two months due to fears of coronavirus infection, the idea of 30,000 people, many of them schoolchildren, gathering in Bristol for a Greta Thunberg rally on Friday seems a bit irresponsible on behalf of the organizers.

Bearing in mind that most schools only finished their mid-term holidays last week and Friday of this week would mean another day skipping school, police also warned parents that the expected number of people flocking to hear the 17-year-old Swedish activist speak puts children in danger of tripping, falling or being crushed.

Apart from the huge inconvenience of all-day road closures around the College Green area of the city, two schools near the venue have been shuttered in anticipation of the crowds and others have postponed exams. Since when was education dispensed-with so randomly? Take your child out of school to go on holiday and you are fined by the local authority in the UK, but say it’s for the climate and you win immunity from prosecution.

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Children at my daughter’s school have been forbidden to mention the coronavirus because the younger pupils become upset. Four schools have voluntarily shut in the UK and others, ours included, have asked that families returning after the school holidays from those countries with serious numbers of coronavirus victims, mainly Italy, self-isolate until given the all-clear by a doctor.

All this adds to a growing unease. Unsuccessfully trying to buy hand sanitizer yesterday, I was told at the local pharmacy that I was the fourth person to come looking for it in the last hour only to be told it had long sold out.

The growing crisis is real, absolutely no two ways about it, so it seems wildly inappropriate to blithely add to the sense of alarm by insisting an event go ahead, Greta Thunberg or not, when there is no real need for it to happen on a particular day.

Bristol police have warned parents that they are responsible for the safety of their children, a clear disclaimer based on the perceived risk of so many people gathered in one place without appropriate stewardship.

While huge numbers of excited climate-change activists are one cause for concern, it seems the very real public health threat caused by thousands of people massed together in the midst of a global coronavirus epidemic is not worth considering.

Elsewhere, fears of spreading the virus have led to the cancelation of major sporting events, with rugby union in Italy, skiing in Switzerland, cycling in the UAE and skating in Seoul all scrapped.

There’s even talk of canceling the Olympics in Tokyo, while Japan is to shut all schools from next Monday.

If event organizers and public health officials across the world are all concerned enough to bin these hugely popular occasions out of concern for the participants and fans, serious questions need to be asked about the Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate event.

They chose to press on with this rally despite concerns on several fronts: crowd warnings from police; a mass gathering in the middle of the worldwide COVID-19 epidemic in a country already struck by the virus: and on another unofficial day off school only a week after pupils finished a mid-term break which, largely thanks to the weather in the UK, left them mainly stuck indoors and their parents frazzled.

While the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK (19 and rising) is a drop in the ocean of 80,000 across 50 countries, the speed with which it spread across northern Italy is terrifying.

Should Bristol prove to be Ground Zero for a mass outbreak of coronavirus in Britain, then the day Greta Thunberg came to town will indeed be long remembered by those who went to see her, but for all the wrong reasons.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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