TOPSHOT – A doctor attends to patients in intensive care in the COVID-19 ward of the Maria Pia Hospital in Turin on April 7, 2020. – The Piedmont region around the industrial city of Turin reported 854 COVID-19 related deaths. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)
by LAUREN CODLING
LEADING doctors and MPs have slammed health officials for failing to react to the rapidly growing rates of Covid-19 infections and rising death toll among Asians.
The criticism comes as data on Tuesday (7) suggested that ethnic minorities could be at a higher risk of developing life-threatening symptoms, with nearly a third of people who were critically-ill said to be from a BAME background.
Figures from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC), showed 14 per cent of Covid-19 patients were of Asian origin.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, urged the government to launch a “targeted and culturally sensitive” campaign to reach ethnic groups, noting that many may be struggling due to language barriers.
As Eastern Eye went to press on Tuesday (7), at least 6,150 deaths and more than 55,200 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the UK.
Areas with high Asian populations have been hit hardest by the pandemic, including the London boroughs of Brent, Croydon and Harrow. Birmingham on Tuesday had the highest number of confirmed cases outside London, with more than 1,200 affected.
“It’s deeply concerning that language barriers may be preventing individuals, including older people and those with underlying conditions, from receiving this advice,” Dr Nagpaul told Eastern Eye.
“The government must ensure that it is reaching out to all communities in modern Britain and ensuring that everyone, no matter their background, fully understands how to play their part in combating this pandemic.
“That means ensuring that advice is readily available in languages other than English, and it is easy to access and understand, and tailored where necessary to reflect cultural sensitives.”
Fellow GP and honorary vice-president of the BMA, Dr Kailash Chand, echoed similar concerns, claiming that some minorities may have problems understanding the implications due to cultural and language differences.
He also noted that religious groups may be impacted, following reports that some elderly people continued to attend mosques and gurdwaras for prayers.
“Muslim and Sikh people were struggling to adhere to government guidelines surrounding social distancing as they are driven by their religious convictions,” Dr Chand said.
A number of MPs have urged more tailored information for ethnic communities in the hardest hit areas.
Some have also suggested the higher number of cases could be down to families living in close proximity to one another.
Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill acknowledged that ensuring key messages could reach all communities was a “difficult task”. However, she said the local community was taking steps to address the problem.
In collaboration with the Sikh Doctor’s Association, the director of public health in Birmingham, recently produced an informational video which has also been shared on social media and other more traditional channels to give it the widest reach possible.
“Clearly, there is more that can be done to make sure that vital, life-saving information filters through to everyone in our society,” Gill told Eastern Eye.
“I believe it is the responsibility of us all to ensure timely, accurate information is shared in our communities, but this should always be done by working closely with local public health officials.”
Shabana Mahmood, the representative for Birmingham, Ladywood, admitted she was aware of the difficulties that Asians may face under lockdown.
“The prevalence of inter-generational families like mine often living together makes taking the necessary steps to limit the spread extremely hard,” the Labour MP told Eastern Eye.
Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent Central, said the high number of cases in her constituency was down to many families living in inter-generational households.
“Children are often asymptomatic, so they are carriers and spreaders and are unfortunately likely to give the virus to more vulnerable grandparents and parents,” she told Eastern Eye.
“We also have a very diverse population in Brent. Asian and African Caribbean families have different social structures and so interact very differently.
“The idea of phoning before you turn up is often an alien concept. It’s not that people do not understand social distancing, it’s more about changing the way people interact as a community.”
Butler said overcrowding in Brent also was a “big problem”, which meant self-isolating could result in many people crammed together in a small space.
Harrow East Conservative MP Bob Blackman said he was also aware that large families living under one roof could find it difficult to follow government advice due to lack of space.
However, he said the local community had united to help those in need, with many offering assistance to others.
Harrow West MP Gareth Thomas said there needed to be more action to better support for NHS and care home staff, and to maintain adherence of government measures. He praised the efforts made by his northwest London constituency, commenting on the “huge response” from locals.
“The considerable respect for social distancing rules and the remarkable amount of volunteering to help vulnerable is encouraging,” the Labour MP said.
Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North, told Eastern Eye that information about rates of infection being higher among Asians was “very worrying”.
“We need to see more effort from the authorities to offer advice in community languages and use media that can communicate vital safety information to everyone,” he said.
In response to Eastern Eye’s request for a comment, a Public Health England spokesperson said they were translating information into multiple languages including Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu.
“(We are) working hard to ensure ethnic minority groups are informed and confident about their role in staying safe,” the spokesperson said.
The Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to Eastern Eye’s request for a comment.
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