Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th January 2021

I had intended to write this week about the steps the Government needs to take to help schools and parents ensure every child receives a decent education through the lockdown, but that will need to wait for another column.

On Tuesday, many of us lost a friend and the town lost a dedicated servant. Cllr Raj Sharma, twice Mayor of Crawley, a fearless champion for community cohesion and a man whose decades of youth work proved his commitment to the town long before he first sought elected office, passed away aged 68. Since the news broke the council has been inundated with people expressing their sorrow at losing such a kind and generous man. It will be a long time before we see his like again. For those who would like to make their feelings known, there is a virtual book of condolences running on the Crawley Borough Council Facebook page and donations are being collected online to support his favourite charities.

Raj wasn’t in the at-risk age groups and he wasn’t infirm, but that didn’t mean he was safe from the pandemic. If there is to be any good from this tragedy, let it be that people wake up and realise that COVID-19 isn’t the flu, it isn’t just picking off the old and those with major pre-existing conditions, and that it is considerably safer for all of us to get a vaccination than it to catch the disease. This is the most deadly pandemic the country has faced in a century and we are months away from halting its spread.

Crawley’s Memorial Garden gates carry the names of the 111 local men who died in the four years of the First World War. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Crawley is already around that mark and with the vast increase in case numbers over recent weeks, we should be ready to see the fatalities grow substantially over the next month. We are in the most dangerous period of the pandemic. We need to be clear that bending or breaking the rules isn’t just ‘naughty’, it puts peoples lives at risk.

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