Michael Sheen urges UK to use hotels as refuges during COVID-19 lockdown

    Cast member Michael Sheen poses at the premiere of "Passengers" in Los Angeles, California U.S., December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RC1E5A0803C0

    By Emma Batha

    LONDON – Hollywood actor and activist Michael Sheen urged the British government to turn empty hotels into refuges for people fleeing violence at home during the coronavirus lockdown as he warned there would be a dramatic increase in domestic abuse.

    The Welsh actor, famous for his roles in the “Twilight Saga” and Oscar nominated film “Frost/Nixon,” said shelters were already at “absolute bursting point” in Britain, now in its sixth full day of lockdown.

    “In these difficult times there is the certainty that abuse calls and cases are going to rise dramatically,” Sheen said in a video on twitter as he urged the government to provide “crucial funding” to enable services to respond to increased pressures.

    “The evidence from other countries in lockdown are that reported domestic abuse calls have risen by 30, 40, even up to 50% in some cases.”

    Britain joined Italy, Spain, France and other countries last week in ordering citizens to stay home to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 30,000 worldwide.

    Sheen appealed to anyone “perpetrating abuses” to seek help to stop, saying the main thing children would remember about coronavirus was “what home felt like” during the lockdown.

    Charities have said they are bracing for “a perfect storm” as lockdowns fuel a surge in domestic abuse, while severely limiting the ability of services to help those isolated at home with a violent partner.

    With hotels and bed and breakfasts empty of guests, Sheen said the government should draw up a plan to put them on standby to take in those fleeing abuse during the pandemic.

    Britain’s interior ministry was not immediately available for comment.

    But interior minister Priti Patel, writing in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, made clear anyone at risk could leave their home despite the restrictions.

    Nearly 2 million people a year, mostly women, suffer some form of domestic abuse in Britain, according to official data.

    Patel acknowledged measures like social distancing and self-isolation may leave victims of crimes like domestic abuse and child sexual abuse feeling “isolated, vulnerable and exposed.”

    But she promised that the government had not forgotten those for whom “home is not the safe haven it should be”.

    The government has given 1.6 billion pounds ($2 billion) to local councils to help those in need and is working with charities, she said.

    “My message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down. And my message to every perpetrator is equally as simple: you will not get away with your crimes,” she said.

    In his video message, Sheen also urged everybody to watch out for anyone they believed could be a victim of domestic abuse, suggesting that an offer to do their shopping could be a way to reach out.

    “If you suspect that someone you know may be suffering, and there is a safe way to get a message to them … now maybe the time that they will want to be asked ‘Is everything OK?’,” he said. “Don’t be a bystander. Please ask.” – Reuters