'It's not on': Premier's threat after hundreds of people flock to markets

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

Crowds of people have ignored strict coronavirus restrictions and flocked to a busy market in a blatant disregard for self isolation and social-distancing rules.

There were shocking scenes in Brisbane on Saturday when hundreds of people attended the Jan Powers Farmers Market, in the inner-city suburb of New Farm, which went ahead despite serious health warnings.

After images circulated on social media, there was a resounding disbelief expressed among Australians, particularly after thousands were captured crammed onto Bondi Beach two weeks ago.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk threatened on Sunday to “shut down” markets if people continued to flout social distancing rules, but many questioned why she hadn’t done so already.

Crowds shown shopping in close proximity despite social distancing rules. Source: Twitter/Bronwyn Venus

“Yesterday (Saturday), we saw crowds at markets and guys – it's not on! If I see that happen again, they're going to be shut down immediately,” she told reporters.

“So I'm going to be talking with the police commissioner, and if that happens again, it's going to be shut down, because people are not observing social distancing.”

After sharing a similar statement to Twitter, Ms Palaszczuk faced hefty criticism for putting the livelihoods of local farmers ahead of the health of the wider public.

She had justified allowing the markets to go ahead in support of the 70 to 90 vendors selling their produce, but many argued this simply was not good enough.

“Unfortunately too many people are selfish or stupid or both and need regulation. Regulation or shut down, both are going to be negative for the farmers but you clearly can’t expect people to regulate themselves,” one person wrote in response to her tweet.

“People have clearly shown that unless it's going to be enforced, they won't do it. Shut them down,” another agreed.

One angered local shared a photo from a distance of people in close contact while shuffling through the narrow lanes at the market.

“Apologies to those in Sydney that I called idiots, seems Brisbane has them too! This is Jan Powers Farmers Market on Saturday, 4 April 2020,” she wrote in a post to Instagram on Saturday.

“In the middle of a global pandemic where you are supposed to be only leaving your house for essentials and be 1.5 metres away from others.”

She pressed Ms Palaszczuk and Queensland Police to explain why the mass gathering was allowed to proceed, despite the tight restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“How will we ever get through this? You wonder why people are confused. This has to stop. I like supporting farmers but not at the cost of peoples lives,” the woman said.

A statement released by the director of the market, Astrid Gates, said they had “been urged to remain open” and operated based on the advice provided by local council and the State Health Officer.

“All steps were taken to ensure the safety of our staff, stallholders and customers. Please refer to our social distancing and hygiene directives posted on social media,” the post shared on Saturday read.

“Hand washing stations were set up at the markets with signage instructions on all the stalls. The stallholders were briefed by the Market Managers during the week.”

Ms Gates said police on Saturday morning had encouraged that the number of people allowed to enter the market at a time be limited, similar to what will be adopted by Coles and Woolworths from Monday.

“We will be reviewing the logistics and any other further measures during the week,” she added.

Coronavirus rules

Current advice states people should only leave their house for four reasons – for compassionate or medical reasons, for essential groceries, exercise, or for school or work.

There has been widespread confusion over what should be deemed “essential”, particularly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his wife, Jenny, had gone out to buy jigsaw puzzles for their kids.

In public spaces, people are required to keep a 1.5-metre distance between themselves and others, and there should be a four square metre space per person in indoor spaces outside of the household.

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