Hundreds have signed the petition demanding that Cambridge Market is reopenedTxllxt TxllxT / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Cambridge Market has been closed since New Year’s Day in response to concerns from Cambridge City Council about large crowds gathering in the area, despite the city being in Tier 4 lockdown.

An online petition asking for “Cambridge City Council to reverse its decision to close the Market such that essential foods stalls can continue to trade immediately” has attracted more than 1,800 signatories in 24 hours.

Cllr Rosy Moore, Executive Councillor for Climate Change, Environment and City Centre, highlighted that the decision wasn’t taken lightly, but that “public health and reducing the spread of this dangerous virus is our priority and that is behind our decision to temporarily close the market”.

Moore went on to emphasise the “risk of serious overcrowding in the market square” and the consequent difficulties in maintaining social distancing.

Up until this point, while non-essential stalls were closed under government guidelines, stalls such as butchers, grocers and fishmongers have been able to continue trading as essential businesses. 

The decision was taken in discussion with public health partners. Val Thomas, Deputy Director of Public Health, brought attention to the rapid spread of cases through Cambridge and maintained the importance of keeping people’s contact with anyone outside their household or support bubble to the absolute minimum. Thomas highlighted how “it is contact with other people which spreads the virus and that includes crowded outdoor locations where people can’t easily stay two metres apart”.

Cllr Moore stated that this closure will be kept “under constant review” and that the council “are looking to reopen it for essential trade as soon as possible”.

This decision, however, has been met with criticism from many, with local stall-holders arguing that shoppers are safer outside and are concerned about the implications on their business, many left for example with perishable excess food stock.

Many of those signing the petition have commented on how they have felt “safer” shopping outside at the market than shopping inside in supermarkets.

Julia Cox, owner of the ‘Emerald Foods’ stall which has been trading loose leaf tea, coffee beans, olives, herbs, spices and whole foods on Cambridge Market for 27 years, told Varsity that there would be a “massive negative impact” on her business due to the closure. She added that there was “no money coming in now since we were made to close yesterday”, with traders being given “24 hours notice to close with no consultation”. 

Cox further compared the current situation to the first lockdown, when the essential food stalls working on the market did their “utmost to keep supplies going when all of the supermarkets were struggling to keep shelves stocked.” She added that “back then we were treated as key workers and now we are being treated like dirt.”

Many stallholders have criticised the fact that surrounding food outlets and shops have been allowed to remain open. Cox spoke of how “it is insane that local residents cannot come and buy fresh fruit and veg, meat, fish, bread, whole foods etc. in a safe outdoor environment such as the market but can buy fast food from McDonald's”.


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Another stallholder, Saide, whose stall, Il Molino, sells products from an Italian organic farm, explained to Varsity that while stall-holders understand the safety issues raised by the council, most of the crowds are linked specifically to “hot food stalls which are prone to queues''. 

Similarly, the local opposition party, the Liberal Democrats, have also released a statement condemning the “snap decision” and have launched a local petition

Cllr Josh Matthews, Lib Dem spokesperson, said in a press release that the council’s decision has left him “somewhat confused and uncomfortable”. He called upon the council to review the policy after only one week, highlighting the uncertainty caused by the council’s decision to keep the closure in place merely “until further notice”. 

He also further stressed the need for compensation for businesses who are worried that, having been closed by a council decision rather than by government regulations, they won’t have the same access to financial support as the non-essential businesses closed under government guidance. 

Alongside this, Mathews also drew attention to the team of COVID marshalls employed by the council, questioning why they had not been successfully used to help manage this issue and asking “aren’t situations like this the exact reason why the council has employed [them]?”. 

Barricades have also been placed around the market and along King's Parade in recent days in order to prevent large gatherings, with signs highlighting the appropriate coronavirus safety measures. 

This comes as COVID-19 infection rates in Cambridgeshire have more than quadrupled in the last month, with 416 cases per 100,000 people in the city of Cambridge.

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