• Saturday, May 21, 2022

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London mayor’s worry over virus being used to ‘divide communities’

Sadiq Khan. (Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images).

By: Lauren Codling

by LAUREN CODLING

THE mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has condemned critics for blaming Asian communities for spikes in Covid-19, claiming some were using the virus as “a way to divide communities”.

In recent months, local lockdowns have been implemented in areas in Leicester, Greater Manchester and Blackburn – cities and town which have a substantial south Asian population.

However, the community has been targeted by far-right groups and some public figures who have criticised them for not adhering to guidelines. In July, Conservative MP Craig Whittaker suggested ethnic minorities were “not taking [the Covid-19 pandemic] seriously enough”.

“I’m really concerned (about these claims),” Khan told Eastern Eye. “(Whittaker) and others are using this virus as a way to divide communities.”

He was keen to emphasise that cases may have spiked in these groups due to the disproportionate impact of the virus on British Asians. In June, research by the University of Edinburgh showed people of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage in the UK are 20 per cent more likely to die if they catch coronavirus. South Asians were also found to be more likely to have customer-facing jobs and often live in larger family groups.

The London mayor said Covid-19 cases may have spiked in ethnic minority groups due to the disproportionate impact of the virus on British Asians

Khan claimed these factors contributed to the high number of cases within the community. As many south Asians work on the frontline, they could catch the virus and unknowingly bring it home to their families. “There are often other members of their family in the home as many live in inter-generational households and some may live in overcrowded accommodation” he explained. “Therefore, the virus could be passed on.”

Urging the government to continue providing guidance for ethnic minority communities, Khan said it was vital that information was available in different languages. He also recommended that appropriate guidance be published in titles such as Eastern Eye, which reach Asian audiences.

In addition, there have also been concerns about Asians not engaging with the new NHS Test and Trace plan. According to some reports, many fear financial setbacks from taking extended periods of time off work and therefore losing pay. Statistics have shown that many ethnic minorities either do not earn enough money to claim statutory sick pay or are self-employed.

Last week, Khan wrote to chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Matt Hancock, urging them to put in place comprehensive financial support for workers who are required to self-isolate and the businesses that employ them. “My concern is that unless the government gives these people decent financial support, then some of them won’t stay at home for the 14 days when they’re supposed to,” Khan said. “It’s in everyone’s interest for people who may have the virus or have been in contact with somebody [who does] to stay indoors for 14 days, but you’ve got to make it easy for them to do so and not penalise them for doing the right thing.”

The mayor also spoke to Eastern Eye about the plight of businesses across the capital, including concerns over the newly implemented congestion charges in the city. Last week, restaurateur Cyrus Todiwala wrote in Eastern Eye that the £15 charge has made people reluctant to travel into the city centre. Todiwala argued the temporary charge, which is now payable on Sundays and weeknights, is depriving most central London restaurants of vital revenue streams.

Sadiq Khan has said his hands are tied as he admitted the recent change in congestion charge will hit revenues of central London restaurants

In response, Khan said he shared the concerns on the future of London businesses. Blaming the government for the 30 per cent rise in congestion charges, Khan said Transport for London (TfL) was forced to increase the fee in accordance with a £1.6 billion funding agreement.

“When it comes to the financial support TfL needs, the government should not be attaching conditions,” he said. “I’m afraid the government forced TfL to increase the level of congestion charge and to include Saturdays and Sundays.

“So, I’m hoping your restaurant contributor (Todiwala) works with me to lobby the government to remove the strings attached to the conditions on us accepting the grant from the government.”

The mayor voiced his fear that restaurants would not be able to reopen if they went out of business. If this occurred, the unemployment rate would rise and Khan predicted the government would therefore need to spend more money on paying unemployment benefits and funding struggling businesses. “The government should be providing financial assistance now to keep those businesses open,” Khan said.

The mayor also defended the recent news about court of appeal judges rejecting a bid to exempt minicab drivers from the London congestion charge. The charge, which was introduced by Khan last April, was said to be doing “serious harm” to ethnic minority drivers by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB).

Statistics show 94 per cent of licensed minicab drivers in London are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Defending the ruling, Khan emphasised that the congestion charge was implemented to solve the air quality crisis in London. “We have a situation where thousands of Londoners die prematurely because of the poor air quality,” he said. “What we’re doing in London is cleaning up the air, which is one of the reasons why we want to reduce congestion.

“It’s really important that we don’t have the poorest Londoners suffering the worst health because of pollution caused by cars. And I’m a believer in the ‘polluter pays’ principle.”

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