Coronavirus: Conflicting views about whether markets remain open across Cambridgeshire and East Anglia as new closures announced

Cambridge market - OPEN

Cambridge market - OPEN - Credit: Archant

More markets are closing across Cambridgeshire and East Anglia as local councils respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Whilst Ely has closed until the pandemic is over, a dwindling number of local councils in nearby places are keeping theirs open – Cambridge being the largest.

West Suffolk Council, who operate markets in Bury St Edmunds, Mildenhall and Newmarket and other local towns, had also planned to continue.

But this week they decided that all their markets would close from March 31.

Cllr John Griffiths, leader of West Suffolk Council, said: “Having a market in our towns is part of their history.

Wisbech market- OPEN

Wisbech market- OPEN - Credit: Archant

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“But these are extraordinary times and an operational decision had to be made in the face of dwindling numbers at the markets, increased demands on staff and safety.

“Our staff can also be better used in other even more demanding areas to tackle the impact of COVID-19.”

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Ely Markets posted on social media that “following the latest government advice on Covid-19 we have made the decision to close Ely Market until it is safe to re-open”.

However, Cambridge Market posted that “we’re still open and offering a range of food items”.

Whittlesey market on Friday - OPEN

Whittlesey market on Friday - OPEN - Credit: Archant

They even suggested that “if you want to avoid the supermarkets and be in the open-air, feel free to come visit us.

“Please make sure you’re following social-distancing etiquette”.

East Cambs council leader Anna Bailey said: “It was hard to ensure people were following the social distancing requirements. It’s not a decision we took lightly. We’re working with our traders to help them with promoting alternative trading arrangements, such as deliveries where there is a massively increased demand.”

Fenland District Council is emphatic that “our markets are currently open for customers who wish to buy essential retail items (such as groceries and food) only”.

Ely market - CLOSED However many traders continue to promote home deliveries

Ely market - CLOSED However many traders continue to promote home deliveries - Credit: Archant

The council says that customers must follow government and NHS advice “and only go out if absolutely necessary to purchase what they need”. And the council warned that “our other traders selling items that do not fit into this category will not be trading until further notice”.

In Wisbech it is the town council who run the markets. Their spokesman said: “Ensuring you are complying with social distancing and shopping in an open-air environment for meat, fish and fruit/vegetables is a great way to get your essentials.

“Obviously, there are no non-food vendors such as handbags or jewellery at the moment as those market traders are not food retailers.”

Cllr Susan Wallwork, a Wisbech councillor and Fenland Council’s portfolio holder for communities, said: “You can leave your house to buy food, this is food.

Cambridge market - OPEN

Cambridge market - OPEN - Credit: Archant

“This will take the pressure of the supermarkets which are indoors, more people and have lots of surfaces.

“This is in the open, I can’t see how buying food in the fresh air is such a worry.

“Individuals have the ability to follow the social distancing rules and can keep their own distance, they don’t need the town council to do this for them. Keep safe and make good choices”

In Swaffham though the markets superintendent was adamant that its popular Saturday market must stop.

He tweeted: “It is with great sadness that the decision to close #Swaffham Market has been taken.

“We look forward to welcoming you back when the current situation allows. In the meantime, keep safe and well and be kind to yourself and each other.”

One reader wrote to me today to note that “I went to Ely on Thursday to go to the market and it was not open to my surprise.

“Surely, they could have allowed fruit and veg stalls, fishmongers, cheese and bacon stall and bread to open as long as they were restricted and applied to new regulations and kept their distance?”

She added: “The markets at Cambridge and St Ives were operating.”

On Monday Wisbech Town Council posted an update.

“There will be no market there will be no market traders operating today, Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Finchys would usually be trading with fruit and veg but have decided to operate on a home delivery basis for the time being.”

West Suffolk Council said it has tried to keep the markets running as long as possible under Government guidelines. But operationally it can no longer be done as the demands on staff due to the impact of COVID-19 rises.

We are redeploying those market staff onto other vital COVID-19 work including the extra measures the Government has brought in to support communities and businesses.

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