Two Brighton advisers have passed the first confinement in France
A COUNSELOR defended spending four months in his French vacation home while the city battled Covid – saying it was “the safest thing to do”.
Husband and wife advisers Tom Druitt and Alex Phillips decided to travel to the French Alps to visit friends in early March last year and Cllr Druitt decided to speak out after residents asked questions during a board meeting.
The couple left a month after Brighton’s first high-profile coronavirus case.
When they left, there were 114 cases in the UK and almost four times as many in France – 423. But Cllr Druitt said they didn’t expect their trip to be affected because “it s ‘was still a Chinese problem. ”
After seeing friends, the couple moved into the holiday home they own in France at a time when the country was on lockdown but the UK was not, with UK citizens still being urged to return home.
They spent four months at their French property, which was bought in part with inheritance money and rented out when they are not there, while Brighton and Hove have recorded dozens of deaths.
Lockdown restrictions finally began to ease across the UK in May 2020. Representatives of the Regency Quarter remained in their French home until their return to Brighton in July. While in France, they attended board meetings virtually over the Internet, just like their colleagues.
Cllr Druitt told The Argus: “Everyone knew where we were. It was no secret. We attended every board meeting and worked on cases – we did it from there because that it seemed like the safest thing to do.
“We felt that it was actually safer to stay where we were, the practical difference between us being stuck in a room here or stuck in a room there was zero.”
Cllr Druitt and his family visited France on March 5.
He said: “As far as it was reported in the media in the UK, it was still a Chinese issue, with a hot spot in Iran and something in Italy.
“When we went there was no news from affected France or the UK.”
The World Health Organization declared Covid on January 30, 2020.
Brighton and Hove reported their first case of Covid-19 in early February, when resident Steve Walsh contracted the virus in Singapore.
Mr Walsh then left on a trip to the French Alps, where people who shared accommodation with him also contracted the disease.
Argus has reported extensively on the subject, making headlines on February 7 with the headline “Killer Virus in the City”.
In the following days, a number of people in the city were asked to self-isolate, as there were panic purchases of hand sanitizer and face masks.
On February 11, the council called an unprecedented emergency press conference because it “knew people were worried.”
At the end of February, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned that further transmission of the virus was “only a matter of time in my examination”.
On February 27, the BBC reported that the Cabinet Office had been in contact with local authorities about their “preparation for mass death”.
Cllr Druitt and Cllr Phillips spent the first two weeks of their stay with friends in the Alps.
The couple had planned to return home by train on March 10, but that was canceled on the eve of their trip.
Cllr Druitt has said his train trip to England has been repeatedly canceled until services are suspended.
He said airports, car and coach rental services had also been closed due to the spread of the disease.
“There was no physical way to go back and the directive in France was that you had to stay home,” he said.
“There were no flights from where we were and obviously we try not to fly when we can too.”
France has gradually introduced a number of restrictions, closing schools and universities, then pubs, restaurants, cinemas and nightclubs.
On March 16, President Emmanuel Macron announced that a full lockdown would begin the next day.
When this went into effect, there was a restriction on all travel, with a number of exceptions, including seeking medical help and brief individual exercises, according to reports.
Those leaving their homes were required to carry identification and have a signed statement explaining the reasons for their trip, failing which they could be fined.
Cllr Druitt said: “We then heard that the French government was tightening the lockdown even further and restricting movement between parts of France.
“We have a place in France, it’s no secret … we went a little beyond welcoming our friends. We borrowed our friend’s car and stayed there.”
The couple moved into their holiday home, previously purchased when Cllr Druitt sold an apartment in Scotland and inherited the money after her mother’s death.
On March 23, Boris Johnson announced the lockdown of the UK with people urged to stay at home to stop the spread of the disease.
The Argus has checked the internet archives to verify the government’s travel advice at this point.
We found an article on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website on March 29 which advised ‘Britons traveling overseas to return to UK now, if commercial flights are still available’.
The FCO warned that international travel is becoming “very limited as air routes close, land borders close and new restrictions are put in place to prevent flights from leaving.”
Although freedom of movement was largely restricted during the first lockdown on May 1, the FCO said “there were still business options to return to the UK from France”.
While at their French property, Cllr Druitt and Cllr Phillips continued to work as city council – then led by the Labor Party – faced the impact of Covid, taking a number of measures including the installation of emergency cycle paths throughout the city.
Meanwhile, essential workers have kept the country running, with many risking contracting the virus in the process.
Lockdowns began to lift in the UK and France from May 10, with some schools in England reopening on June 1 and non-essential stores on June 15.
While on June 23, the Prime Minister announced that the “national hibernation” was over.
By the end of June, Brighton and Hove had recorded 162 deaths linked to the coronavirus.
Cllr Druitt said the couple finally returned home in July – although he cannot remember the exact date.
Asked about it by The Argus, Cllr Druitt said: “I didn’t want to take my family on a train at that time, not knowing what the state of play was.
“We made the decision to wait until the two countries have unlocked and gradually return to normal.
“In times of uncertainty, you put the health of your family first.”
Residents have previously raised concerns about councilors living out of town.
Two members of the public asked about it at a full council meeting in October.
One resident, Laura King, said: “You can only be a city councilor if you live in a city, so if those councilors have moved overseas, they have to resign. ”
Another resident, Andy Macay, asked council if the accepted rule for councilors is that they must live in the area they represent.
Council chief Phelim Mac Cafferty told the meeting that there are a number of grounds for qualifying for the election and for continuing to hold office after being elected, although “they are, however, not not limited to residents of the local authority area “.
Cllr Mac Cafferty added: “What we were talking about 18 months ago was the plight of people which meant that they might be away from the city council area for a while.
“The pandemic has done things like stopping travel. This meant that there were blockages not just here, not just in Europe, but all over the world.
“During this period, they also had on-call duties. They may have needed to support friends or families elsewhere where restrictions permitted
“Unexpected circumstances have arisen over the past two years, such as people unable to return for periods of time due to the lockdown. ”
Earlier this year, The Argus reported how Cllr Phillips claimed a total of £ 1,458 for childcare for the fiscal year ending April 2021.
Cllr Druitt said none of that money was for the time they were in France.
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