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Could Coronavirus postpone local elections?

Bristol City Council’s director of public health Christina Gray shows a graph comparing two types of epidemic peak

Coronavirus numbers could peak “quite quickly” in the UK, raising questions over whether local elections could be postponed.

Local elections are due to be held on May 7 in more than 100 local authorities areas across England, including Bristol.

The city’s top public health official warned that the coronavirus “epidemic peak”  could come in the next few months.

Speaking in City Hall, Bristol City Council’s director of public health Christina Gray said the UK was attempting to delay the peak of the epidemic with public health measures such as handwashing and social distancing.

A delay would spread the cases out over a longer period, making the epidemic easier to manage and less intense at its height, especially if it is pushed into the summer months, she said.

But an early, sharp peak, such as Italy experienced, “would be quite challenging”, she told the inaugural meeting of the council’s new health scrutiny committee.

“What we expect is the number of cases will increase with some rapidity in the coming weeks,” she said.

“If we’re unfortunate, and we’re unable to delay it, this [the peak] could happen quite quickly, so [in] April, May.

“If we’re successful in our measures, we’ll push it back to June, and if we’re really successful and very lucky, we’ll be into July.”

Councillor Harriet Clough raised the possibility of local elections being postponed.

Committee chair Brenda Massey said: “At the moment, we’re assuming there will be elections, but obviously we don’t know because, given the current situation there’s the potential for them to be cancelled.” 

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Massey said there had been no official notification of the possible postponement of May’s mayoral and council elections, but that there was “a lot of people talking about it”.

“It’s just speculation,” she said. “We honestly don’t know. It’s a wait-and-see game at the moment.

“Obviously, it’s bringing a lot of people together at polling stations and the count, so it’s something that would have to be considered.”

Mrs Gray said she understood that the postponement of local elections would be a decision taken at Government level.

Nearly 120 local councils around the country are due to hold local elections on May 7.

Eight directly elected mayors and 40 police and crime commissioners are also scheduled to be elected on the same day.

Some 456 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK, three of them in Bristol, according to the latest figures from the Department of Health.

Eight people have sadly died.

Mrs Gray told the health scrutiny committee that the region was gearing up to tackle rising numbers of coronavirus cases.

Avon and Somerset’s multi-agency emergency response local resilience forum has been “stood up”, she said.

Two “silver health and care command” groups have been set up: one for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, and another for Somerset.

Bristol City Council has its own coordinating group and a public health intelligence advice cell with a 24/7 rota ready to support any of its services.

By Amanda Cameron, local democracy reporting service

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