ARMED forces could be scrambled amid fears local lockdowns will spark riots.
The Government was told military support would be essential to controlling public disorder because “police are in a far weaker position in terms of capacity to deal with these threats.”
It comes amid fears coronavirus and local lockdowns have left the UK “precariously balanced” and could fuel violence worse than that seen in the 2011 London riots.
A SPI-B Policing and Security sub-Group report said: “If serious disorder does develop, it will have a detrimental impact on public health, facilitating the spread of disease, making the re-imposition of measures to control the spread of Covid-19 next to impossible and would be likely to require military support.”
SPI-B – which stands for the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza group – is a SAGE group that advises the Government
Its report, called “Public Disorder and Public Health: Contemporary Threats and Risks, insisted violence would adversely affect public health and local lockdowns bring a “series of threats to social cohesion and public order.”
According to The Mirror, it added: “Some media narratives are reinforcing claims that Asian and Black people in areas of local lockdown are potentially responsible for disproportionately spreading the virus.
“The police are in a far weaker position in terms of capacity to deal with these threats than in 2011 and police weaknesses, when recognised, were a factor in the spread of urban disorder during those riots.
“Policing has a vital role to play in preventing disorder but coordinated action is needed across Whitehall and with local authorities. This is not simply a policing issue.”
It comes as experts warned there will be more lockdowns if infections continue to spiral.
Sage’s Professor Graham Medley said the rise in coronavirus infections appeared to be among younger people but warned there was a danger it could “spill” over into other parts of the population.
The chairman of the Sage sub-group on pandemic modelling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The age distribution of infections has changed, it has moved down into younger age groups and so it is likely we won’t see that increase in hospital admissions related to infection in the same way we did in March.
“But the big fear is the virus just gets out of control and we end up in a situation where there is so much virus that it inevitably spills out into all sections of the population.”
Prof Medley said the increased lockdown measures in areas across the north-west of England were “highly unlikely” to be the “last intervention that has to be done regionally”.
“I fully expect that there will have to be other interventions at other times but what the interventions are really depends on what happens,” he added.
The fears of violence erupting are detailed in documents published yesterday by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
The papers, considered at a meeting on July 7, say local restrictions, racial inequalities, protests and street parties have sent tensions soaring.
‘SITUATION IS HIGHLY VOLATILE’
They added: “In the next few weeks and months the UK will face grave challenges to public order.
“The situation is volatile and highly complex.
“Tensions resulting from the pandemic and lockdown have become inextricably bound with structural inequalities and international events.
“While widespread urban disorder is not inevitable, currently, the situation in the UK is precariously balanced and the smallest error in policing (whether perceived or real, inside or outside the UK) or policy could unleash a dynamic which will make the management of Covid-19 all but impossible.
“Put simply, a serious deterioration of public order could overwhelm all attempts to control contagion, overwhelm hospitals, the criminal justice system and hinder revival of the economy.”
The experts warn the police are now less equipped to deal with riots than they were in August 2011 due to cuts to staff and facilities.
A lack of frontline officers, intelligence workers, custody suites and helicopters has left their ability to respond “significantly diminished”.
They say ministers should consider local tensions before imposing more lockdowns.
The document says: “Government should take account of intelligence on community tensions and other factors that may be inflamed by the extension or imposition of local lockdowns.
“Public health measures are never simply scientific decisions and the consequences in terms of public order (and ultimately for public health) could be serious if lockdown imposition is ill-judged.”
The situation could be made worse by the ending of furlough, increased unemployment, sporting fixtures and further lockdowns.