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Here yesterday, gone today: the mobile testing unit did not turn up on the Stade open space on Monday, as had been expected.

Locals protest choice of Stade open space for Covid test site

The choice of the Stade open space as an occasional coronavirus test centre is to be reviewed following protests from Old Town residents. On the scheduled third day, the test team were moved elsewhere. Nick Terdre reports.

Hastings finally got its own Covid-19 test centre at the weekend, when a military-run unit was deployed to the Stade open space on Saturday and Sunday. However on Monday, when they were expected again, they did not show. Hastings Borough Council spokesman Kevin Boorman told HOT the team had been “diverted elsewhere” outside Hastings at short notice.

No further date was in the diary for the mobile unit to set up on the Stade, he said and the location of the site would be reviewed.

A review was also promised in a joint statement released last night by HBC, the East Sussex County Council director of Public Health, Darrell Gale and the tactical chair of the Sussex Resilience Forum, Sussex Police superintendent, Marc Clothier, which said, “The council, with partners, will continue to look for alternative suitable sites for the pop-up testing unit to be hosted in the town. However, in the interest of public health, paramount importance will be that the town can host mobile testing sites when they are needed.”

The apparent change of mind followed protests from local residents, one of whom, Becky Smith, launched an online petition “on behalf of the independent small businesses of Hastings Old Town who have just begun to welcome visitors back to the area.

“However, the decision to put the Pop-Up Covid-19 Testing Centre in the open space, at The Stade could completely jeopardise the area’s recovery, in all senses, as well as increasing the risk to the local population.”

The petition, which by mid afternoon of Tuesday had passed 1,650 signatures, went on to say, “Our attention has been drawn to the fact that this is on a ‘walk-in’ basis, meaning that individuals (potentially with COVID) are drawn to our very small, narrow and BUSY streets,” and suggested that the site be relocated to a less populated area such as the Oval on Bohemia Road.

Test centre in operation in Bexhill in April (photo: ESHT).

Meeting the criteria

An earlier statement from Mr Boorman said that another potential site had been identified, but was turned down by the military operating the facility. “The only other site we could identify which met the criteria was the Stade open space, which we agreed could then be used on an occasional basis.”

Mr Boorman later told HOT that the criteria kept changing. Cllr James Bacon, who represents the Old Hastings ward, said he had been in favour of using the Rock-a-Nore car park, though this would have involved pedestrians making for the site going a little further along the same route.

When it popped-up on Saturday, however, the centre caused Eat@The Stade, which sits at the side of the open space, to close down. “We had been told that [the Covid testing station] would be small and tucked away near the beach, but this is not the case,” the cafe said on its Facebook page. “We have no outside space and nobody is allowed to walk on the open space, which is taped off and patrolled by the army.

“…as we stood and despaired this morning, the only people we saw getting tests were walk-ups. That means that people who think they have Covid are strolling through the busy narrow streets of our lovely town right now.”

Having only recently reopened, Eat@The Stade said its survival was threatened by the intermittent presence of the test site outside its doors: “The summer holidays will be make or break for most hospitality businesses in ours and other seasonal areas. We have now entered this race with one arm tied behind our back.

“And it’s not just this weekend. We are told that the station will be back every three weeks. If we have to close regularly for three days (the length of time we are currently told they will be there), the chances of us surviving until next year decrease significantly.”

In the joint statement, the ESCC’s Mr Gale said, “Symptomatic people will only be accepted if they are in a car. Those on foot are likely to be asymptomatic essential workers, who pose no more risk there than if they went shopping or anywhere else.” Residents are unlikely to find his comment reassuring, as asymptomatic persons may be infected.

The lack of notice that the test centre was coming seems to have made the reaction worse. Local resident Keith Leech told HOT that if a statement “had been sent out beforehand it would have diffused an otherwise very tense and upsetting weekend for the whole community and the council.  People were refusing to leave their homes for fear of infection…

Better communication

“Better communication in this is key and when all we seem to have had from the government is confusing, contradictory and shrouded in secrecy, people naturally assume the worst. Once again the council have had to clear up the mess created by others. Public Health England should have informed us all what was happening and the risks to the community before it happened. Hopefully a lesson learned.”

It has not been easy to establish who is responsible for notifying the public about the site and whether advance notice will be given ahead of the next deployment of the mobile team in Hastings.

According to HBC, “The council were told that all publicity about the site was to be undertaken by the organisers.” Mr Boorman told HOT that the Sussex Resilience Forum was the responsible party for notifying the public. A spokesperson for the forum told HOT: “All advertising and public notices are the responsibility of the local council/Public Health England.”

The communications manager for Public Health England South East told HOT: “These [centres] are not operated by PHE, so you need to speak to either East Sussex County Council or the Department of Health & Social Care.”

 

Posted 09:52 Wednesday, Jul 22, 2020 In: Covid-19

3 Comments

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  1. John Hall

    The biggest ridiculous nimbyism I have heard of in a long time. We want to be protected, we want to feel safe, just not here, put somewhere it can’t be seen or easy to get to. We are in a pandemic, schools have to open, we have to manage this the best we can. Forcing centres to close is beyond stupid…is it because you don’t want new town residences mixing with the DFL?

    Comment by John Hall — Tuesday, Aug 11, 2020 @ 08:42

  2. Penny

    Any available testing should be welcomed.
    This should have been better publicised.

    Comment by Penny — Monday, Jul 27, 2020 @ 08:15

  3. Robert Lloyd

    The decision to place a pop up Covid 19 tested station in the middle of The Stade seems well beyond stupid! Hastings Old Town is just starting to recover from lockdown, reopening shops and bars etc. We are a holiday destination, and we need to attract day trippers and families back as soon as possible. Placing the testing station right in the middle of some of the main visitor attractions is clearly a major error of judgement, and the various authorities in charge seem to want to pass the bunk!
    If we need a testing station near the town centre then The Oval, Falaise Road car park would be an obvious location, plenty of room and WCs.
    Bob Lloyd
    Chair Hastings and Rye Libdems

    Comment by Robert Lloyd — Friday, Jul 24, 2020 @ 11:18

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