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Reopen libraries for families struggling without WiFi in pandemic - plea

Friday 22nd January 2021

CALLS have been made to reopen all of Kent’s 99 libraries to provide internet services for families struggling without WiFi amid the pandemic.
Boris Johnson’s Government said libraries can remain open in the third national lockdown, announced on January 4, in order to give people access to “vital” digital services, if they do not have the facilities at home.
However, Kent County Council (KCC) has chosen to shut its 99 libraries, only allowing click-and-collect services at 27 sites, because of the potential health risk to staff and customers posed by the coronavirus.
Maidstone County Hall opposition leader, Cllr Dara Farrell (Lab), lobbied for an urgent rethink of the decision during a virtual meeting earlier today.
The Ashford South member said some residents rely on the internet to access financial schemes, such as universal credit, a monthly government payment to help people with their living costs.
Calling for their reopening, Cllr Farrell told a panel of councillors: “I appreciate there are many Kent library staff that will be worried about introducing this.
“That being said, what steps are being taken to engage with staff to ensure people can access vital services such as IT?”
Libraries were shut in Kent for nearly four months when the first wave of the coronavirus struck the UK last March. A staggered reopening took place of 12 libraries in July, allowing people to book slots, in advance, to use the internet.
More libraries reopened in August, with additional safety measures put in place, including hand sanitiser stations, one way routes while face coverings were made mandatory.
But KCC has decided to fully close Kent’s 99 libraries to the public during the latest national lockdown amid fears from staff about their safety.