by LAUREN CODLING
CORONAVIRUS cases are rising in areas with high Asian populations as local authorities voiced concerns about infections increasing within multi-generation households, one week before England is due to lift its lockdown restrictions.
Government figures on Monday (23) revealed that infection rates increased within areas with a substantial Asian population such as Birmingham, Luton and Slough, in the seven days to last Tuesday (17). London boroughs including Redbridge, Brent, Hounslow and Harrow have all also reported a rise in Covid-19 cases.
Local authorities are seeking to reassure vulnerable communities following consistent data showing ethnic minorities are at increased risk of being hospitalised and dying from the virus.
Restrictions are due to be lifted next Wednesday (2), after a four-week national lockdown to try and halt the spread of the virus. On Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson announced new measures that will come into effect when lockdown ends, with the country subject to a tougher three-tiered regional approach to reflect differences in infection rates.
Some areas will move into a higher alert level than the one they were in before, Johnson confirmed. “I’m sorry to say we expect that more regions will fall, at least temporarily, into higher levels than before,”
he said in a statement to parliament.
More information on the regional tiers is due to be released by government on Thursday (26).
Councillor Steve Curran, leader of Hounslow Council in west London, acknowledged that the vast majority of the infections in the area had occurred within families living in multi-generation households. Data has shown an 11.8 per cent increase of cases in the borough, in the seven days to last Tuesday.
Curran was confident, however, that local authorities across London with large Asian populations had worked to communicate the appropriate guidelines to ethnic groups. “We managed to bring (those cases) down because of all the work we’ve been doing with local communities on social distancing and basic advice, such as washing your hands and wearing a mask,” he told Eastern Eye. “I think that’s had an effect on the Asian communities and has helped to bring down the infection rate.”
If a family member residing in a multi-occupied household tested positive, Curran admitted it was a “problem”. “We’re very keen that people are aware of (the complications) and remind them to do everything they can to try and stop the spread,” he said.
In Slough, health officials confirmed the majority of Covid cases were in household clusters. Government data on Monday showed cases had increased in the Berkshire town by 17.7 per cent. “Slough’s demography means that it has high percentage of residents from BAME community who generally are more likely to live in multi-generation households,” a public health spokesperson from Slough Borough council told Eastern Eye on Tuesday. “This brings an element of risk to the elderly and vulnerable who might not be going out and following the rules, but get the infection from younger members in the family who are not following the rules.”
Councillor Khtija Malik, the Luton borough council’s portfolio holder for public health and commissioning, confirmed to Eastern Eye that around 40 per cent of cases were linked to transmission within households – particularly in larger, often multi-generation households. Data on Monday showed Luton had recorded a 13.1 per cent increase in cases.
Officials said they had worked on “dedicated” community engagement with the younger population to keep families safe.
According to Curran, health officials believed cases had risen in Hounslow following the reopening of schools in September. Many cases occurred among young people (aged 10 to 19) and the elderly. Slough officials said household mixing seemed to be the key factor contributing to the increasing rates. It is evident that households are still mingling with extended families and not adhering to the rules, authorities said. Malik also confirmed that most transmissions in Luton was within and between homes.
Curran expressed concern about the coming months, especially over the Christmas period when families are expected to mix. On Monday, Johnson repeated his hope that people in Britain could be with their loved ones over the Christmas holidays. However, the prime minister warned it would not a normal festive season.
“I’m really concerned about what happens over Christmas with families mixing and an increase of illnesses such as flu,” Curran said. “But we’ve got to look on the positive side, as we’ve hopefully got the
vaccinations coming in the New Year.”
According to reports, the UK had began preparations to make Covid-19 vaccines widely available by next spring after the one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca was found to be up to 90 per cent effective in trials. Johnson said on Monday that he hoped almost all Britons at high risk from Covid-19 would be vaccinated against the disease by Easter. It has not yet been confirmed if ethnic minority groups would be part of the priority groups.
However, he said government will not force people to have vaccinations against the virus. “There will be no compulsory vaccination. That’s not the way we do things in this country,” Johnson said. “We think it (vaccination) is a good idea, and you know, I totally reject the propaganda of the anti-vaxxers, they are wrong. Everybody should get a vaccine as soon as it is available.”
Once the regional tiers are announced on Thursday, councils can begin preparations on how to communicate with locals. Curran hopes that London will remain at tier two, but suspects the capital has “not done enough to warrant going into level one yet”. “I just hope that we pushed down rates enough so we don’t go into level three,” he said.
In response to Eastern Eye, a department of health spokesperson pointed to official guidelines available for multi-generational households. Officials advised any individual with symptoms to isolate for 14 days. Other members of their household should follow the same rule, regardless if they show symptoms. If people require help to collect outside supplies, they should ask friends or family to assist, or order online.