A “disturbing” leaflet accused of downplaying the dangers of Covid-19 has been criticised by a Solihull councillor, who claimed the message could be “putting lives at risk”.
Cllr Flo Nash (Lab, Kingshurst & Fordbridge) has hit out at the printed pamphlet which has been circulated in her ward – where coronavirus cases had spiked again last month.
The anti-lockdown flyer, branded as being from the far-right group Patriotic Alternative, accuses the government of “lying about the Covid mortality rate” and claims some NHS staff reporting that “hospital wards are empty and had been for months.”
In fact Solihull’s latest bulletin revealed more than 100 Covid patients were still being treated by University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) at the end of March.
Cllr Nash said she had been “so offended” by the leaflet’s claims, given the human cost of the pandemic, and that outbreaks had taken a heavy toll in her community.
Kingshurst & Fordbridge was one of two borough neighbourhoods flagged by public health officials as having seen a worrying rise in cases in mid-March.
While infections have since fallen back, Cllr Nash said it was vital people continued to follow the rules.
“So many people have lost their lives and [we have seen] how much the NHS is doing,” she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS)
In an online plea to residents she added: “We all want our lives and businesses to get back to normal as soon as possible.
“But make no mistake, if we don’t control the virus now, there is a danger of further spikes and that would lead to further restrictions.”
The two-sided flyer – which said the pandemic had been “exaggerated – had been flagged with the council’s public health team.
Its opening paragraph said: “For months we have all been lied to by the government and the media about the threat Covid-19 poses to our health.
“However, Cambridge University statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter has revealed that those under the age of 50 with no underlying health conditions have more chance of dying from an accident or injury than they do from Covid-19.”
While the mortality rate among younger adults and children is indeed low, scientists have argued that high rates of transmission among the less vulnerable inevitably impact on those at greater risk.
There are also growing concerns about Long Covid – which sees symptoms persist for months, with many of those affected of working age.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data suggests around 93,000 people in the West Midlands alone are living with long-term effects.
A Solihull Council spokeswoman said: “We were made aware of a leaflet being distributed in Kingshurst at the end of last month that was full of misinformation about Covid and was political in nature.
“We have used our social media channels alongside our community, parish councils and wider voluntary networks to remind people to use trusted sources of Covid information.
“We are always looking for ways to support residents to follow the government and public health guidelines in order to reduce the spread of Covid.
“For example we have a highly visible ‘Let’s do the right thing for Solihull’ brand to encourage collective positive behaviour within communities.”
“We welcome alerts to us of this misinformation to the council as it means we can respond and provide the right information and guidance.”
Patriotic Alternative is a nationalist group which was set up in 2019 and has drawn some of its support from former British National Party supporters.
Unlike the BNP, the organisation – whose views previously have been criticised by the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate – is not listed as a political party by the Electoral Commission.
When asked to comment on the concerns about the Kingshurst leaflet, a spokeswoman for the group said: “Figures suggest that lockdowns are more harmful to the mental and physical wellbeing of our people than the coronavirus is.”