The coronavirus pandemic has prompted carnival organisers around the world to reschedule or cancel, but organisers in London are determined to hold Notting Hill Carnival on Sunday 30 and Monday 31 August 2020, as planned.
In a letter sent yesterday to some (but not all) mas bands, Notting Hill Carnival Limited (NHCL) assured band leaders: “We are doing everything we possibly can to continue to plan for a safe NHC 2020.” The letter continued:
Health and Safety is at the core of all decisions being made and all planning is being done within the parameters of up-to-date NHS and government guidelines and regulations. To date official advice from the government and our stakeholders supports NHC 2020 going ahead.
“Stakeholders” include the Metropolitan Police, London Ambulance Service, Transport for London, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the London Mayor’s Office. It is likely that Public Health England and the local National Health Service (NHS) trust have also been asked for advice.
NHCL claimed that the majority of social media comment supported its stance, saying “public support for NHC 2020 far outweighs the naysayers”. It noted: “Being adaptable and resilient are characteristics which have defined the Carnival community since Carnival began.”
As public gatherings of any size are currently banned by the UK government as part of precautions to stop the spread of infection, mas bands have had to cancel or postpone their launches, with an increasing number putting them online. China’s three-month shutdown severely affected supplies and shipments of material, but bands were now reported to be “receiving materials from China, and there are UK suppliers with available stock too”. Materials were being distributed to makers so they could produce costumes at home, the letter added.
According to NHCL, this means “it looks like Carnivalists will be hosting the first mass gathering in the UK”. Waverers were urged to contact NHCL “before you make any significant decisions around your participation in NHC 2020 [and] ahead of going public”.
However, two band leaders told Soca News privately that they do not intend to take part in NHC this year. In the probable absence of a Covid-19 vaccine by August, they deemed it unwise to go down narrow streets that are tightly packed with visitors from all over the world, some of whom may be carrying the virus. They also felt that buying in materials and preparing costumes at a time of such uncertainty posed a significant financial risk to their bands.
A few days before the letter was issued, Soca News contacted NHCL for an update on its plans for Carnival this year but did not receive a response.