Traders at the UK’s largest fish market have called for a coronavirus crackdown amid concerns crowds of shoppers are failing to maintain social distancing or wear masks.
Several businesses at east London’s Billingsgate fish market, which is home to more than 50 sellers and dates back to the 19th century, closed temporarily earlier this year after workers became concerned about the spread of Covid-19 and lack of social distancing from the public.
Some protective measures have since been put in place by owners the City of London Corporation, such as reduced capacity, police monitoring, and tannoy announcements about social distancing and face masks. However, traders the rules are not being sufficiently enforced.
Footage and images taken by traders show shoppers wearing face masks on their chin and walking closely together on 19 September and 26 September, prompting concerns as coronavirus infections surge in the capital.
Under government rules, people must stay two metres apart from people they do not know, or one metre with extra precautions in place, such as wearing face coverings.
“There’s too few people policing it really. The public are either oblivious to it or ignorant," said Steve Monaghan, who runs seafood company John Stockwell and previously closed his shop for a month in April after becoming concerned for the safety of his staff.
He told The Independent: “They [City of London Corporation] should’ve had more manpower in the beginning. We have eight entrances and exits and about six are used. There’s not enough police. We need one on every entrance and exit. Some days we can go through the whole day and only see two."
The market has police officers who patrol the site, but they are largely responsible for enforcing market rules and administering medical attention where needed.
He added: “It just seems so simple to me at the beginning they should’ve shut down every entrance and had one way in, one way out, and limited the people coming in. Or made it trade only on a temporary basis. There’s no one way system at the moment. It’s just frustrating."
Mr Monaghan said while there is was queuing system in place outside the market, people were not wearing their masks or putting them on inside.
“At my company we’ve been wearing them in the shop, and other companies have too, but we haven’t even had an email or anything from the City of London saying ‘merchants should now wear masks’ so not everyone does," he said.
“We haven’t had one meeting with them since the whole thing started. We had two emails telling us what they planned to do, and then the superintendent of the market has been down once. It’s poor, it’s really poor.”
Rex Goldsmith, who runs The Chelsea Fishmonger in west London and has been going to the market for 25 years, said he enforced strict social distancing restrictions in his own shop but the same rules were not enforced at Billingsgate.
He told The Independent: “It’s easy to blame the market authorities, but I think the blame should be made on a lot of the idiots walking around all wearing masks on their chins.
“I don’t understand how it’s allowed to carry on. I’ve got a little fish shop in Chelsea, we’ve been open throughout. We’ve put our procedures into place, early on in lockdown we furloughed staff because it’s a small shop.
“We’re all being sensible, and we do everything, we wear masks, we allow two people at a time to the counter, then you go to Billingsgate and you might as well be p*****g in the wind. They need to up their game, it’s people’s lives and is a very serious thing. There’s too few police around.”
A City of London Corporation spokeswoman said: “Billingsgate Market has deployed a range of measures including reduced admission numbers, hand sanitiser stations, tannoy announcements and posters throughout the market.
“At all times when customers are onsite there is a minimum of six members of the Billingsgate Constabulary who, along with usual obligations, monitor adherence to the rules.
“Customers, tenants and staff are asked and encouraged to wear a face covering, unless exempt, and to adhere to social distancing.”