tBarnsley’s heroes of the coronavirus pandemic have been cast in bronze in the heart of the city centre. A nurse, carer, teacher, volunteer and police officer are depicted on the shiny new sculpture, along with the words, “Barnsley’s fierce love holds you in his heart forever”.
Relatives were among the hundreds of people at the monument’s unveiling in November. And in Barnsley many people mourn. The city of South Yorkshire has recorded more deaths from Covid-19 per capita than anywhere else in the UK: a toll of 972 so far, but the number is still rising.
News that one of Boris Johnson’s top officials was hosting a ‘bring your own booze’ party in Downing Street in May 2020, when the UK was in its strictest phase of lockdown, was met with anger, dismay and cynicism in the city on Tuesday. receive.
“It’s disgusting,” said Audrey Myers, 61, who serves customers at Pickles Fine Foods. “It’s one rule for us and the other for them. If you have money and power, you can do whatever you want.”
Though shocked by the revelations, no one who spoke to the Guardian believed Johnson would face serious repercussions for allegedly attending the apparently closing party. “I know what needs to be done,” Myers said. “He has to resign. But he’s not going to do that. He’ll get away with it.”
She added: “It’s not fair, but it doesn’t matter what I think – it won’t change anything.”
Mick Bishop, 59, is one of thousands of former South Yorkshire Labor voters who broke years of political tradition and voted for Johnson’s Conservatives in December 2019.
He was furious about Garden Party No. 10: “It’s disgusting. People won’t play by the rules when they hear things like that,” he said, adding that it probably wouldn’t decide how he would vote in the next general election.
Bishop, who has been selling CDs and watches in the Barnsley market for a decade, said the news would encourage people to drop their vigilance against Covid just as the infection rate in the region passes the height of London’s Omicron wave: “People don’t wear masks like they used to. If someone challenges them, they’ll say, ‘Boris Johnson does what he wants, so I’ll do it.’”
Like many of the UK’s post-industrial towns, Barnsley has had a persistently high infection rate since the start of the pandemic. The coronavirus thrives in places like Barnsley, with its multi-generational households and a large number of public employees.
The city currently has the seventh highest infection rate in England, although its vaccination program has graciously slowed the risk of deaths and serious illness. Four more people have died of Covid in Barnsley since Christmas Day.
James Higginbottom, 24, lost his grandfather to the coronavirus in October 2020. The 77-year-old was one of more than 175,000 victims of Covid in the UK. Like thousands of people across the country, his family was not allowed to visit their dying relative in his final days. Their only contact was a daily update from “incredible” staff at Barnsley Hospital, Higginbottom said, and one last painful phone call between father and son.
“When you see revelations like… [the Downing Street party] about the people blatantly ignoring the rules – it’s disgusting, it’s disappointing,” he said.
Higginbottom, who was elected Labor councilor last May, said he was dismayed that Johnson had not been made clear whether he had attended the May 2020 party, as several witnesses have claimed: “This is not about politics. This is about the lives of people and people who are grieving and rightly angry about what is going on.
“We have a saying in Barnsley: ‘Don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining’. That’s what it feels like the Prime Minister is doing.”
At Mike’s Cards at the market, Rebecca Dawson, 43, said she had always disagreed with the need for closure and that the Downing Street party proved she was right. “Boris throwing a party speaks volumes about how much they fear Covid. They weren’t exactly afraid for their lives, were they?”
Others said they were tired of the almost daily deluge of allegations of rule-breaking by members of the government. Some supported Johnson — a market trader, who declined to be named, praised the prime minister for “excellent work” — and accused the media of allegedly stirring up a storm.
Stephen Price, the owner of EB Price & Son, which has been selling fruit and vegetables in Barnsley for 65 years, said it was time for the media and the public to distance themselves from the controversies breaking Covid rules.
“Had this come out three months after the pandemic, I would appreciate the commotion, but I do think it should be put to rest,” said Price, 68. He added, however, that that is not a license for the Prime Minister meant: “I think he is currently politically damaged. There have been too many cases like this in recent months. It is the public that will ultimately decide [Johnson’s fate],” he said.