LONDON – Britain has defended its arrangements for the Group of Seven (G-7) summit after awkward photos emerged of world leaders crowding together for a beach barbecue despite a worldwide pandemic of the virulent Covid-19.
When grilled by Sky News’ Trevor Phillips in an interview on Sunday (June 13) over the seeming disregard for social distancing rules, British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “It’s outside, it’s very well ventilated on the beach.”
“Both in terms of the checks that have been done – the daily checks for Covid, the precautions, the slim-lined delegations – we have taken every measure possible to make sure this is not just Covid secure but able take place,” he said.
Mr Raab also said the government had “gone well above and beyond” to make sure the event was Covid-19 secure.
Featuring a sea shanty band and toasted marshmallows, the exclusive event on Saturday night at Carbis Bay, Cornwall, was not open to the media. But the Daily Mail reported that guests were served food, such as scallops, crab claws, mackerels, barbecued beef sirloins and lobsters.
Under coronavirus restrictions which applied to England over the weekend before rules are expected to be eased in a Monday announcement, outdoor gatherings are not allowed to exceed 30 people, unless covered by a legal exemption, such as for the purposes of work or volunteering, or to provide care or assistance for disabled or vulnerable people.
But photos showed that the glitzy beach party had more than 30 people, including staff who were wearing masks.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s toddler, Wilfred, was also introduced to his counterparts and presidents at the event by his mother Carrie, the Evening Standard reported.
When Mr Phillips pointed out the discrepancy between the leaders’ dinner and other social gatherings of the application of the 30-person rule, Mr Raab said: “In fairness, there have always been different principles for social entertainment or weddings than for government business.”
“Those rules have been the same all along,” he added.
Mr Raab said he expected people would understand that the G-7 leaders were engaging in “serious business” at the summit, including bringing back the economy “stronger, greener”.
“That’s serious business they are engaged in amidst all of the leisure activities on the beach,” said the foreign secretary.
Downing Street on Sunday denied that the world leaders had broken Covid-19 rules and said Mr Johnson, US President Joe Biden and other leaders behaved in a “Covid-secure way”.
Only 30 people were allowed into the barbecue area, said the spokesman.
G-7 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the US met over the weekend at the picturesque seaside resort in southwest England in their first summit in nearly two years, after the global coronavirus pandemic forced last year’s event to be cancelled.
They were joined by their counterparts from the European Union, and invited guests from Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa. But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi took part virtually because of the rapid spread of a new variant of the virus back home.
All leaders who attended the three-day meeting that ended on Sunday have been at least partially vaccinated against Covid-19, the Agence France-Presse reported.
Summit participants, including country delegation members and journalists, had to undergo regular screening using rapid tests two days before the start of the event. They then have to be tested twice the following week.
Coronavirus restrictions also apply: masks must be worn in enclosed areas, social distance of two metres must be maintained, hands must be washed frequently, and indoor interactions must be limited to six people or two households.
But the heads of state and government were not required to be masked for the family photo, which was held outside. Mr Johnson would also not shake hands – something he insisted on doing in the early stages of the pandemic.
During a photocall with the world leaders on Friday, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth quipped: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourselves?”, provoking laughter.
“Yes,” PM Johnson replied. “We have been enjoying ourselves in spite of appearances.”