Covid-19: Asians are at higher risk


Figures from the Resolution Foundation show that 80 per cent of the south Asian British population live with younger people in the household (Photo: NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images).
Figures from the Resolution Foundation show that 80 per cent of the south Asian British population live with younger people in the household (Photo: NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images).

LOCKDOWN measures set out by the British government are rules, not advice, and will be enforced, health minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday (24).

On Monday (23), in a rare TV address to the nation, prime minister Boris Johnson said Brit­ons would only be allowed out to shop for basic necessities, exer­cise, for a medical need, to pro­vide care or to travel to work where absolutely necessary.

“These measures are not ad­vice, they are rules and will be enforced, including by the po­lice,” Hancock told parliament.

The heath secretary’s com­ments come as community lead­ers warned that Asians were at a higher risk of becoming infected with the Covid-19 virus.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior consultant in Communicable Disease Control and a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exe­ter, said Asian elders could be at risk since they were more likely to be living in joint families.

“While this has not been prov­en scientifically, it is an entirely plausible outcome because (Asian elders) live in more human traffic,” he told Eastern Eye on Monday. “You can therefore ex­pect a greater chance of picking up the infection.”

Figures from the Resolution Foundation show that 80 per cent of the south Asian British population live with younger people in the household.

The foundation’s research and policy analyst, Fahmida Rah­man, said the government’s re­sponse to coronavirus took no account of the way that non-white families are structured and “actually risked the lives of el­derly people in (Asian) commu­nities who live in multigenera­tional families”.

The Runnymede Trust deputy director Dr Zubaida Haque also expressed concerns about the government’s directives.

“How will (self-isolation) work for elderly people who live with other family members?” she said. “In thousands of homes across the country, there are not only three generations of family members in the same household, but also less space – including in poorer house­holds where grandparents are al­so helping out with childcare.”

NHS officials have previously warned that Muslim families could likely be more susceptible to picking up the virus due to their social habits, such as eating and praying together.

One of the earliest confirmed coronavirus related deaths in the UK was a British Bangladeshi who died earlier this month. He had apparently returned from Italy at the end of February and was ad­mitted to hospital on March 3.

His son was quoted as saying: “After my father was admitted to the hospital, we were also quaran­tined at home. We regularly re­ceived information from the hos­pital over the phone, though we were not allowed to talk directly with my father.”

“We never heard of anything like the coronavirus only two months ago, but it has taken away my father,” he added.

Meanwhile, all but essential shops were told to close immedi­ately on Monday following John­son’s address, in which the prime minister urged people to no long­er meet family or friends in order to slow the spread of the virus.

Johnson had previously resist­ed pressure to impose a full lock­down as other European coun­tries had done, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” Johnson said.

Under the new rules, Britons would only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic ne­cessities, exercise, for a medical need, to provide care or travelling to and from work where absolute­ly necessary. Gatherings of more than two people in public who do not live together were banned.

The government’s restrictions also said that people should only travel to work when it was “abso­lutely necessary”.

“These are the only reasons you should leave your home,” Johnson said, adding that people should not meet friends or family mem­bers who did not live in the same home. “If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them. This in­cludes through fines and dispers­ing gatherings.”

The new measures would be reviewed in three weeks, and re­laxed if possible, he added.

Those who flout the govern­ment’s instructions to stay at home face on-the-spot fines of £30 which could rise significantly if needed, the prime minister’s spokesman said on Tuesday.

“Regulations will be made as soon as possible and by Thursday at the latest to allow the police to issue fines to those who refuse to comply,” he added, saying that police would “take whatever steps they consider appropriate to dis­perse groups of people who are flouting the rules”.

“These rules are not optional,” London mayor Sadiq Khan said, following the announcement.

However, there was confusion about some of the measures an­nounced on Monday.

The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, ap­peared on radio and TV shows on Tuesday to say people “wherever possible” should stay at home to try to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. Gove also clarified the advice he gave on air about whether children of separated parents could move from one household to the other, initially saying it should stop but then say­ing it was allowed.

Major construction work could also continue, he said, but work in homes involving “intimate con­tact” with the householder would not be appropriate, Gove said, adding that the rules were “clear”.

Peter Fahy, the former head of police in Manchester, said clarifi­cation was needed, particularly on how to enforce a new rule ban­ning gatherings of more than two people. “Our police officers are already very stretched,” he said.

“It will require a huge amount of public support, public accept­ance and public compliance.”

Since the announcement, su­permarkets have started limiting the number of customers in stores at any one time to enforce social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak (See page 13).

A YouGov poll on Tuesday found that 93 per cent of Britons supported the measures but were split on whether fines would be a sufficient deterrent. The survey found 66 per cent thought the rules would be very easy or fairly easy to follow.

(With agencies)