By Jamie O’Dell
Stroud’s anti-lockdown protestors were in the news again over the past few days as Gloucestershire Royal Hospital made a response to ‘secret filming’ that claimed the hospital was “all shut down, all dead”.
These claims were seemingly supported by footage which supposedly showed the hospital empty; in reality, the filmer – who was not wearing a mask – deliberately filmed the quiet outpatient department on the Sunday of Christmas weekend. The statement was released due to the amount of views and shares the original Facebook Live video has received: currently at 172,000 views and a share from Katie Hopkins, and the hundreds of thousands more it has gained from re-posts and other social media platforms.
The filmer has since returned (maskless) to the hospital’s tower block to address the point that they only filmed an outpatient department. However, the filmer then declared that the Stroke wards on floor 6, whose corridors were quiet aside from a few nurses going about their business, should be rammed with Covid patients because this is where ‘elderly’ patients go.
In a subsequent Facebook post, the filmer said: “When the riots and uprising really kicks in, I see the public turning on the NHS staff who are holding up this massive scam and tyranny.”
This comes as anti-vax and anti-lockdown activities in Stroud are continuing apace, with leaflets containing misleading information being handed out across town and posted through people’s letterboxes.
Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie has made a statement on this rise in disinformation, stating that ‘Thousands of people are in our hospitals manning wards, treating people who are ill, missing their own families and wearing uncomfortable PPE for hours each day. What greater disrespect is there to those putting their lives on the line to treat the sick and all the grieving relatives of the dead than this utter rubbish?’
The Beacon in Stroud, who in May displayed posters in their window claiming that Covid-19 is a ‘blood disorder’ and that there is ‘no need for a vaccine’, recently posted a statement that likened the supposed silence of NHS staff to the – again, supposed – silence of the German medical profession to human experiments in concentration camps during WWII. Rhetoric such as this also displays a wilful ignorance of the attacks on the German medical profession in the 1930s as well as the acts of resistance that did occur, and is likely a knee-jerk reaction on the behalf of the Beacon’s misplaced notions that their civil liberties are being repressed.
These views also contrast with Sandi Adams, who has promoted explicitly anti-semitic material on their personal website, including Holocaust denial, and yet has also been given a public platform at Stroud anti-lockdown protests despite this anti-semitism being highlighted. This, therefore, stands as an example of the level of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance that is required to fuel the false realities these local groups have constructed around themselves.
What is clear is that many of the prominent anti-vax campaigners are keen to capitalise upon the present crisis to promote a worldview where they cast themselves as noble rebels fighting against unrecognisable and tyrannical powers that have the entirety of the NHS under their control. In doing this they deploy as many Nazi references and George Orwell quotes as social media algorithms, which actively tailor your content to what you’re most likely to consume, can feed them as they do so.
Whether or not the ignorance on display here is delusional or purposeful, the impacts are potentially deadly. Before the impacts of Christmas mixing on hospital admission rates have even been felt there were 241 confirmed Covid-19 patients, as of the 29th of December, in the hospitals run by Gloucestershire’s NHS Trusts.
We have also previously seen the devastating impact that anti-vaxxers can have through misinformation about the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine, which has served to lower vaccination rates in Gloucestershire. We cannot let these tactics of weaponised paranoia and playing on people’s fears have the same effect on the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination.
Furthermore, for people who seem to have so little regard for social distancing and wearing masks to be walking around a hospital is an outrageous risk to healthcare workers and patients’ lives. There are also now others, who have been inspired by this act in Gloucester Royal, who are now doing the same around the country, explicitly egged on by the likes of Katie Hopkins, willfully endangering others and themselves.
The actions of these few contrast hugely with the volunteers assisting with the vaccine rollout, who vastly outnumber the core group of anti-vaxers, standing out in the glorious British winter to direct cars and assist people getting their jabs. These are the people, alongside health and other key workers, who we should be promoting, applauding and protecting by working to prevent the spread of misinformation around the pandemic.
So in Stroud, the home of Dr Jenner’s House, the museum in Berkeley to the Gloucestershire-born man who first discovered vaccination as a way to combat smallpox in 1796, we must actively reject the dangerous misinformation that a select minority are doing all they can to promote.
This means knowing the facts about just how serious the current rate of Covid-19 infection is in our district, challenging deliberate attempts to deceive us all by those falsely positioning themselves as the canaries in the Covid coal mine, and working together to protect each other from this accursed virus.