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31 July


Protests continue around the world despite Covid-19 worry

Experts warn that anti-racism rallies may lead to second wave, advise mask-wearing

Photo: Businessinsider

/NOVOSTIVL/ Protests against police violence and racial discrimination are continuing over the weekend not just in the United States but also across cities worldwide, undeterred by Covid-19 risks. This article appeared in Straits Times.

The unrest and sometimes forceful response by the authorities, which promise to have ramifications for November's presidential race and could hit President Donald Trump's chances of re-election, have also dented America's standing in the world.

Thousands marched in London, Berlin, Warsaw, Brisbane, Melbourne as well as in Tokyo and Seoul in solidarity with American protesters while confronting racism in their own countries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who knelt in solidarity with protesters in Ottawa on Friday, acknowledged discrimination by Canadian police against minorities. "Over the past weeks, we've seen a large number of Canadians suddenly awaken to the fact that the discrimination that is a lived reality for far too many of our fellow citizens is something that needs to end," he said.

The protests in the US were sparked by the May 25 killing of a black man, Mr George Floyd, by a white policeman who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Yesterday, officials in the capital Washington DC and other major cities were preparing for the week's largest demonstration yet by deploying police and closing roads in anticipation of surging crowds.

Nationwide protests remained largely peaceful for the most of last week but a steady stream of videos capturing heavy-handed police tactics against protesters has fuelled national anger, prompting calls for greater accountability and for police departments to review their use-of-force policies.

The mass gatherings have fuelled fears that the coronavirus could see a second wave. In Britain, Interior Minister Priti Patel pleaded with people not to protest in view of the pandemic, which has killed more people in Britain than anywhere else in the world outside the US.

"I completely understand people's views and their desire for the right to protest but... we are in a health pandemic," she said. But protesters defied her advice. Likewise, some crowds gathered in Paris although police banned several rallies planned for yesterday, citing fears of social disorder and the dangers to public health.

This came as the World Health Organisation issued an updated advisory for people to wear face masks when in public places. It had previously said there was not enough evidence for or against the use of masks for healthy people in the wider community although many nations mandated masks for months.

"In the light of evolving evidence, WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus yesterday.

Experts say the risk of the virus spreading at rallies can be mitigated if protesters wear masks and are outdoors and moving.

But they fear that the shouting of slogans and certain police tactics could increase the risks of virus transmission. These include the use of tear gas, which causes people to cough and to rip off their masks, and kettling, a controversial tactic in which police herd protesters into smaller confined.