They’ve become known – somewhat infamously – as the Zante 30.
Just as the pubs, cafes and shops on the Barbican in Plymouth were gearing up for a bumper bank holiday weekend, with visitors and city residents expected to arrive on the Devon waterside to drink, eat and be merry, the news came.
Eleven members of a party of 30 teenagers that had returned to Plymouth from the Greek island of Zante had tested positive for Covid-19. The fallout has left the city divided.
“They’ve been very selfish in my opinion,” said Tania Owen, 51, the owner of the Barbican Pasty Co, as she readied her shop for the Friday rush. “I don’t know why a big bunch like that has gone abroad.
“We’ve been lucky in the south-west to have missed the worst of Covid. You worry that we’re in for trouble now. It’s the last thing we need. We’ve got to open and try and make some money to save the summer but this is very concerning. It’s too close to home and it’s the older people who are most at risk.”
The council, meanwhile, struck an arms-round the-shoulders tone. Kate Taylor, the city council’s cabinet member for health and social care, said: “The young people involved haven’t broken any rules and they’ve been incredibly co-operative.”
The party, all aged 18 and 19, arrived back from Zante in Greece, which is not subject to the UK’s quarantine rules, last Friday night and Saturday morning. Before they showed symptoms, some went out to bars and restaurants in Plymouth. They are understood to have spent time on the Barbican and Union Street, but the council has not named the venues they visited.
One of the group, a young woman, began to suspect she had the virus and was tested. The results came back quickly and confirmed she had Covid-19. Other members of the group were tested and 11 were confirmed to have coronavirus, though many of them had only very mild symptoms such as sore throats or were asymptomatic.
The Flower Cafe opposite the pasty shop was closed on Friday despite a cheerful post-national lockdown note painted on the window: “Welcome back, it’s so nice to see you.”
A family business, the cafe was forced to shut again after staff came into contact with a confirmed Covid case. A note on its Facebook page read: “As you can imagine we are devastated, we love our beautiful cafe and are so sad we have had to close at such a busy time of year, especially after being closed for so long over lockdown.” The cafe was approached for comment.
“We think it’s to do with the Zante lot,” said Amanda Percival, who runs the nearby Mad Merchant Coffee House. “We feel so sorry for them.” Emma Leitch, who owns the Pilgrims ice cream shop, added: “We’re very nervous. You wonder how far it’s going to spread.”
A pub on the outskirts of the city centre is also closed and undergoing a deep clean because of Covid, though it is not clear if it is connected to the Zante 30. The large JD Wetherspoon on Union Street, the Union Rooms, said it understood one of the Zante youngsters may have visited. It remained open, insisting its “combination of stringent hygiene and social distancing measures” minimised risk.
The council and health officials are taking a conciliatory approach, insisting the teenagers are cooperating and have done nothing wrong. The council has launched a campaign with the slogan: “Be a good Janner – look out for Nanna” (Janner is slang for a Plymouth resident.) The idea is to remind young people that while they may not fall seriously ill, those around them might.
Breaking the news on Wednesday, the director for public health in the city, Ruth Harrell, said: “We know that some of these young people had no symptoms and so carried on as normal, including a night out in Plymouth’s bars and restaurants, until they became aware of the risk.
“That means more people could be infected. While young people might have fairly mild symptoms, and sometimes none that you would notice, our big concern is that we know it can be very serious for people who have existing health problems or are older.”
The hope is a softly-softly approach will also discourage “vigilante behaviour” towards the teenagers. “We’re trying to rein in that behaviour. They did everything they were supposed to do,” said Taylor.
However, there has been some criticism of the group via the council’s social media channels. “Ah the invincible teenagers, thanks guys … hope you had a good holiday,” said one critic. “It is self, self, self and sod the rest of us,” added another.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the group insisted they were doing all they could to cooperate. “We’ve seen the claims that we’re out and about. We’ve seen threatening and upsetting allegations. We’re trying to do the right thing,” they said.
The city council has come under fire for not giving more details about where the young people are from – and where they visited. It defended its stance, saying test and trace teams had been in contact with close contacts of the Zante party and all the businesses whose details they were given by the 11 who tested positive.
It said it was not naming the venues involved for fear this would cause “unnecessary concern” for people who have nothing to worry about. The council added: “The number of cases in this cluster is well below that which would trigger a local lockdown. This is because, in general, we have a low rate of coronavirus transmission in Plymouth.”
On the Barbican, resident Jason Hall said some nights on the waterfront had been “carnage”. “No social distancing, not a lot of thought or care for people.”
Jo Glanfield, who works at one the waterside pubs, said she was expecting a “crazy” bank holiday weekend. “A lot of people down here are worried. We have all our restrictions in place but it becomes hard to control when there are hundreds of people on the Barbican. I think we’ll be lucky if we avoid a lockdown in the city.”
Source: The Guardian