United Kingdom

Matt Hancock warns protesters against going to George Floyd demonstrations amid Covid-19 pandemic

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tonight warned Britons not to attend large scale anti-racism demonstrations this weekend due to the risk of coronavirus.

He urged people to think of 'the safety of their loved ones' and said Covid-19 remained a 'real threat'.

Speaking at a Downing Street coronavirus briefing today, he urged people not to attend demonstrations of more than six people.

It comes as tens of thousands, including Star Wars actor John Boyega and One Direction singer Liam Payne, took to the streets in central London on Wednesday to protest against racism after the death of George Floyd in the US. 

Further demonstrations are planned over the weekend.

Mr Hancock said: 'I understand why people are deeply upset but we are still facing a health crisis and coronavirus remains a real threat.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tonight warned Britons not to attend large scale anti-racism demonstrations this weekend due to the risk of coronavirus

Protesters maintain social distancing while taking the knee during a protest in Trafalgar Square today

Mr Hancock's warning comes as tens of thousands, including Star Wars actor John Boyega (pictured), took to the streets in central London on Wednesday to protest against racism after the death of George Floyd in the US

'So please, for the safety of your loved ones, do not attend large gatherings, including demonstrations of more than six people.' 

It comes as today Sadiq Khan said he will not attend Black Lives Matter protests in London because of the coronavirus pandemic - as a senior Met Police officer warns that future mass gatherings would be 'unlawful'.  

Deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said gathering in crowds meant those protesting the death of George Floyd risked their own health and the wellbeing of others amid the Covid-19 crisis. 

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the current restrictions are 'really clear' that large gatherings were unlawful, and the Government has insisted people should not meet up in groups of more than six.

'We would strongly encourage people not to come out and gather in these large numbers because they are putting themselves and others at risk,' Mr Taylor said.

'And if they do come out, then we would ask them to observe that social distancing, think about those around them.'

London Mayor Mr Khan expressed sympathy for demonstrators protesting the 'brutal death' of Mr Floyd, but said he would not be attending protests due to the coronavirus pandemic - and urged those who do go to follow 'medical and scientific advice'. 

Laurence Taylor, deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, warned that future mass gatherings to protest against the death of George Floyd would be 'unlawful' due to the current restrictions in place

Mr Khan said: 'That means keep two metres apart from anyone else not from your home, that means where you think you may come into interaction with somebody else wear a non-medical facial covering, that means where you can't wash your hands regularly and thoroughly carry around a hand sanitiser with you.

'Just imagine how you would feel, protesting because you feel strongly about the brutal death of George Floyd, you understand the importance of black lives, they do matter, but you inadvertently caught the virus, went home and gave it to your elderly mother or father who caught the virus and may unfortunately lose their lives.

'That's why it's so important, I understand how strongly people feel about this, particularly black Londoners and black British citizens, but please make sure you follow the advice.'

He said he would not attend the protest because he did not want to catch the virus and bring it to his mother, who has underlying health conditions.

Mr Khan also told Sky News: 'If you feel that personally that you've got to go and protest - I personally am not - please make sure you follow the advice, keep two metres apart.' 

Sadiq Khan told Sky News: 'If you feel that personally that you've got to go and protest - I personally am not - please make sure you follow the advice, keep two metres apart'

Demonstrators scuffle with members of the Tactical Support Group police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 3 in London

Crowds have gathered in London and Birmingham this week to protest over the death of Mr Floyd, 46, after an officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on May 25.

It sparked days of protest in the US and Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations across the world.

Now Michael Lockwood, director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which oversees complaints made against forces in England and Wales, has urged officers to listen to ethnic minority communities.

Writing in The Independent, he said: 'Right now, communities in the UK are expressing real and growing concerns about disproportionality.

London Mayor Mr Khan expressed sympathy for demonstrators protesting the 'brutal death' of Mr Floyd (pictured), but said he would not be attending protests due to the coronavirus pandemic - and urged those who do go to follow 'medical and scientific advice' 

Members of the campaign group Black Lives Matter and supporters, gather in central London to demonstrate on June 3

'Only two weeks ago we highlighted increasing community concerns about the use of Taser.

'We are also hearing concerns about stop and search and, most recently, fines issued during lockdown being disproportionate to black people.

'There must be more research to understand issues of disproportionality, as well as assurance and scrutiny around tactics like use of force and stop and search.'

Protesters in Birmingham on Thursday 'made their voices clearly heard', police said, but there were no arrests and no disorder.

Crowds gathered in the city's Centenary Square, where a silence was observed in memory of Mr Floyd.

Demonstrators, many wearing protective face masks, had been due to congregate in nearby Victoria Square but moved to the larger area to aid social distancing.

Several hundred people then headed to an area outside West Midlands Police's Lloyd House HQ, where many of them knelt or sat in the road with their fists raised.

The protest came after pockets of protesters clashed with police as thousands of people flooded into central London and abandoned social distancing for a BLM demonstration on Wednesday.

A heavy mounted police presence watches over as Members of the campaign group Black Lives Matter and supporters, gather in central London to demonstrate, June 3

After a largely peaceful demonstration in Hyde Park, during which Star Wars actor John Boyega gave an impassioned speech, tensions later escalated outside Downing Street.

The Metropolitan Police said 13 people were arrested.

Demonstrations across the US have included clashes between police and protesters, with officers recorded firing tear gas and rubber bullets on crowds. 

Mr Floyd's body is to go to Raeford, North Carolina, where he was born, for a two-hour public viewing and private service for the family on Saturday.

A public viewing will be held on Monday in Houston, where he lived most of his life.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was 'appalled and sickened' to see what happened to Mr Floyd, while chief constables from across the UK issued a joint statement saying they 'stand alongside all those across the globe who are appalled and horrified'.

An online-only rally is due to take place this Sunday, campaign group Stand Up to Racism said, with speakers to discuss 'how we turn the new wave of anger over racism and injustice into an effective movement for change'.

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