Do not stigmatise Asian people over coronavirus spikes, say councillors

Asian people should not be stigmatised by spikes in coronavirus in their communities, locals in Blackburn have said.

Big families looking after elderly relatives and living in the same terraced houses may be a factor in the increase, according to councillors in the town, which introduced new measures on Tuesday.

Around a third of Blackburn with Darwen’s 148,000 population are from ethnic backgrounds, with a large Pakistani heritage population.

The authority is third on the list of highest weekly coronavirus rates in England, behind Leicester, which has a rate of 118.2 cases per 100,000 and is subject to a local lockdown, and nearby Pendle, with a rate of 76.6, which also have large ethnic populations.

A mobile testing centre in Blackburn
A mobile testing centre in Blackburn (Peter Byrne/PA)

Councillor Saima Afzal told the PA news agency: “It should be a concern to anybody if any community is stigmatised and we know the facts are there, we are open about those facts.”

He warned against analysing the statistics inaccurately as “they can be twisted any way you want to portray them”.

“If you are going home and you are working and you are maybe not abiding by the rules as rigidly as you should be, and you go home and you are caring for a family member, or there are three or four families living under one household, because of economic reasons, or financial issues, and the Asian community do do that – they pool their resources together to help the whole family survive.

“If then they are going home, they are passing it on to more than one person.

“So inevitably, if you take that as a factor as well, and there’s a cocktail of other factors as well, you are going to see spikes in particular communities.

“And there’s the inequalities that have been around for years.

HEALTH Coronavirus Blackburn
(PA Graphics)

“As a group of councillors we are all very concerned.

“If you’ve got underlying health issues we still need to adhere to the rules, regardless of what background you are from, because I don’t want people to be complacent, ‘It’s just a south Asian problem, or a minority ethnic problem, or a particular age’.”

Figures from the last census show 25% of the borough’s Bangladeshi households have too few rooms, compared with 5% of white households.

Councillor Shaukat Hussain said he was not worried about data showing virus cases increasing in Asian communities, despite some reports suggesting a fear of blaming or stigmatising one ethnic group.

He said: “It’s not a concern to me, the facts are there.

“It’s a concern when people start twisting that, like I said – we are more prone to picking up, BAME heritage background people are more prone to picking up the infection than the indigenous – but that doesn’t mean they are the ones spreading it, which some papers are trying to twist.

“It’s the background, it’s the wards, it’s the terraced housing. Other wards are well spread out whereas some central wards are more terraced houses, more people in the household, larger families, so all that will probably play into it.

“But it’s adhering to the guidelines – if we can stick to the guidelines then I’m sure we can keep this under control.”

He said local mosques had done an “amazing” job during the lockdown, adding: “Only last Friday was the first time they opened up and they have introduced social distancing in there and adhering to all the guidelines.

“So some of the mosques could previously cater for 1,000 people at one time, they have gone down to about 200, so there’s good distancing.

“They are all keeping all records of people attending and they are all bringing their own prayer mats so they have been absolutely brilliant in this.”

He said he expected infection figures to initially increase as more testing is done in the town, but he hoped they would fall back in the next two weeks.

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