Shifting the blame for a spike in covid-19 cases on South Asian communities is unfair and counterproductive

Government communication on local restrictions was poor, says Manchester based GP, Siema Iqbal

This year because of the covid-19 pandemic, it wasn’t going to be a “normal” Eid. But the announcement by the UK government to increase lockdown measures across Greater Manchester three hours before Muslim communities were to begin celebrating Eid Ul Adha came as a total surprise, even though local restrictions had been put in place already over the past few weeks in nearby Rochdale and Oldham. The Eid that was going to be spent relaxing with family and friends at numerous barbeques, in the end turned into me adopting the role of the delivery person, doing food drop-offs and pick-ups. 

While I agree that further restrictions are needed as rates of covid-19 rise across nine of ten boroughs of Greater Manchester, the timing of this announcement was poorly thought through and the messaging lacked clarity, as has been the case with the government’s handling of the pandemic so far. 

It also felt like Boris “the grinch” had stolen Eid. Would the same measures have been put in place on Christmas Eve if needed? Rates had been rising for a while so why not announce the new restrictions sooner?

Announcing the new restrictions just before Eid sadly gave traction to people and MPs blaming South Asian communities for the spike in cases, and in some instances take it as far as blaming Muslims for the need to increase lockdown measures while ignoring the other issues emerging. Where is the evidence that South Asian communities are to blame?

Manchester is not a homogeneous city so the lockdown rules implemented throughout the pandemic, designed with a specific population in mind e.g middle class, 2.4 children, are not going to work for everyone.

Rates have been shown to be increasing in the 17-25 year olds yet this fact does not get as much attention. Many in this age group work in the hospitality sector, have a sense of immortality as “it can’t affect me” and are reportedly having house parties, thereby increasing the risk that they are exposed to and transmit infection. 

Rates are also reported to be increasing in South Asian communities. We already know that many people from this community are more likely to be doing more of the precarious jobs i.e. healthcare workers, taxi drivers and factory workers etc, so are therefore more exposed, and will be more severely affected by covid-19 than other people. Socioeconomic deprivation and multi-occupancy housing add to the risk of infection and transmission. Policy decisions have not adequately taken this into account. If one person living in a multi-occupancy household contracts the virus, they will be taking it home to many people despite not breaking the rules or even meeting anyone outside their own households. In instances where two households may have come together to create a social bubble, while still complying with previous lockdown rules, the risk of transmission still increases due to larger numbers of people in a small indoor space. 

I struggle to understand the latest guidance on social distancing and lockdown measures, even though my job as a GP requires me to do so in order to be able to advise patients. So how are the general public meant to keep on top of it all, even more so if English isn’t their main spoken language.

Of course, these explanations will not apply to everyone. There will be a minority of people from all backgrounds who will not be following government guidance, but the majority do, and to focus on one community and shift the blame onto them is unfair and counterproductive especially as there is no reason why South Asian communities would not take social distancing as seriously as any other groups. The government needs to do better than introducing lockdown restrictions in a manner akin to sending an email at 5pm on a Friday afternoon while exiting the building. They also need to understand that the British public will not be the fall guy if the rates spike again.

Siema Iqbal is a GP in Manchester

Competing interests: None declared