Minority communities are bearing an unfair brunt of Covid-19

The UK's lockdown policies affect Bame sections of society disproportionately
Shoppers wearing protective face coverings walk past shops in Birmingham, central England on August 22, 2020, as Britain's second-city, home to more than one million people, was made an "area of enhanced support", because of concern about a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

I felt it first in my muscles, an almost imperceptible ache. I was at my parents’ home to make sure they had enough fresh food stocked. Lockdown had been particularly hard on our elderly who have been deprived of social interaction and in so many cases, meeting their grandchildren.

I went home, put my children to sleep and climbed in to bed. By the next night I knew something was wrong. I stayed away from my parents who were shielding at home. I woke up with a fever and a cough, which would last ten days. The fatigue would go on longer.

A loved one had been taking into emergency care in hospital just before lockdown and I had been with her to take care of her. Already ill, she contracted Covid-19 while in hospital and I picked it up at the same time.

I was fortunate because my fever and cough passed but many others were not so lucky. As someone from a South Asian background in the UK – often grouped under the heading Bame for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, I was frightened by news headlines about the higher risks of fatality for Bame people.

According to Public Health England, mortality was four times higher for Black males than White males, almost three times higher in Asian males, and 2.4 times higher in Asian females.

Even before my bout of coronavirus, I was watching how the needs of people from Bame backgrounds seemed to have been excluded from lockdown policies. The disparities were evident. For example, Bame households are more likely to be multi-generational. The guidance for shielding for the elderly and vulnerable should have been issued accordingly.

People from Bame backgrounds were more likely to be working in front line jobs that continued during lockdown, such as bus drivers and supermarket security, occupations where death rates from Covid-19 were higher.

I knew I was privileged because we had a spare room where I could self-isolate from my children and husband. Every day the children stood mournfully on the landing in my line of sight. We spoke to each other from two metres apart, miming hugs, missing bedtime cuddles.

Other Bame families were not so lucky. Statistics say we are less likely to have space and own homes and are more likely to live in poor quality social housing.

On the worst days of my illness, I lay in bed coughing, hazy with fever. My delirium was filled with a social media feed that was like a waterfall of tears, one announcement of death after another from my Muslim friends and community.

The emotional toll was heavy, especially as the obituaries spoke to the loss of a generation of

from Muslim and Bame backgrounds, and these are young communities compared to the wider white population.

Coverage of the UK's National Health Service featured white staff rather than reflecting the truly diverse nature of the health service which is 44 per cent Bame

It was also baffling because mosques had closed well before lockdown.

Woven into this sense of devastation, which was affecting Muslims and Bame communities disproportionately, was the rise of far-right hatred that blamed Muslims for the pandemic.

Fake news stories in the UK peddled the myth that Muslims were flouting lockdown and spreading the disease by using pre-lockdown pictures.

This felt very raw when a second wave of localised lockdowns, focused around areas of high density of Bame communities and Muslims. And in some of those areas a lockdown on the night of Eid, akin to reining in Christmas celebrations, was perceived – unfairly or not – as targeting Muslims.

A surprising number of reports about the virus, but not specifically about Muslims, featured women in niqab, creating an association between Muslim women and the pandemic.

Members of staff at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital pose for a photograph after participating in a national NHS (National Health Service) celebration clap outside the hospital in London on July 5, 2020, to mark its 72nd anniversary. - This year's celebration is particularly poignant given the challenging conditions NHS staff have had to work under over the past four months amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

On the other hand, coverage of the UK's National Health Service featured white staff rather than reflecting the truly diverse nature of the health service which is 44 per cent Bame.

Also, 72 per cent of all healthcare staff and carers who have died from Covid-19 are black, Asian and or from an ethnic minority . The first four doctors who died on the front line were Muslim.

Then when the news of the murder of George Floyd broke, it heightened the emotional price being paid by Bame communities, already so high during lockdown.

The ravages of the virus and the bigger social and political conversation about inequality, racism and Islamophobia meant that those days that I lay coughing and isolated with a high fever felt like life draining away. I am, of course, thankful to have recovered. But the wounds in our society that are festering, whether it is housing, employment, poverty, poor health and even death need to be nursed better.

With a recession looming, mental health problems rising, and a far right gaining in strength, my worry is the safety, health and recovery of society as a whole. The Bame communities that I am a part of shouldn't be unfairly bearing the brunt.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf. Her latest book is The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams

Shelina Janmohamed

Shelina Janmohamed

Shelina Janmohamed is a columnist for The National