A Conservative MP has been condemned for saying the ‘vast majority’ of those breaking lockdown rules are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, without offering any evidence.
Craig Whittaker told LBC there were ‘sections of the community that are not taking the pandemic seriously’. When asked if he was talking about Muslims, he said: ‘Of course.’
He made the comments after lockdown measures were reimposed in large parts of the North, including his West Yorkshire constituency of Calder Valley. The Tory MP added: ‘If you look at the areas where we have seen rises and cases, the vast majority – not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – it is the BME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.’
‘I’ve been challenging our local leaders… asking what are we doing to target these areas, to let people know this is still a very serious problem. Until people take it seriously, we’re not going to get rid of this pandemic.
‘It’s not just the Asian community in our area. We also have areas of high multiple occupancy that are in the same boat. When you have multiple families living in one household, that doesn’t specifically have to be the Asian community, but that is the largest proportion.’
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Critics were quick to point out photos of crowds of people, many of whom are white, failing to follow social distancing guidelines at pubs and on beaches. Others claimed areas with the highest rates of infection had predominately white populations.
According to census data the population coronavirus hotspot Blackburn is nearly 70% white, compared to 77% in Oldham. Whittaker has since said he was talking specifically about the situation in his constituency, particularly in three wards in Halifax where there was a high proportion of Asian residents, or houses of multiple occupancy.
He added: ‘We have come from a situation where the infection rate was very low and we have seen spikes in those areas, but not exclusively to those areas.’
Census data suggests the population of the borough of Calderdale, in which Halifax resides, is 89.7% white, 8.3% Asian and 0.4% black.
Asked if he was right to state BAME people had not been taking the rules seriously enough, he replied: ‘What else could I say? The reality is, this pandemic has not gone away, we have seen spikes in these areas, something is happening. Social distancing has clearly not been adhered to.’
A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: ‘This is shameless scapegoating of minorities. It is utterly unacceptable and Mr Whittaker should apologise.’
The Labour Party’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova urged Boris Johnson to ‘take action’ over the remarks.
She added: ‘Disgraceful and overt racism from this Tory MP blaming Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, the very people whose lives and livelihoods have been the worst hit by COVID-19.’
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds added: ‘This is incredibly poorly judged, divisive and hurtful from a Conservative MP.
‘People from all communities have made extraordinary sacrifices in this crisis and the higher death rates in some communities have been heartbreaking. He should apologise without delay.’
When asked at yesterday’s Downing Street press conference if he agreed with Whittaker’s remarks, the Prime Minister said: ‘It’s up to all of us in government to make sure the message is being heard loud and clear by everybody across the country, and to make sure that everybody is complying with the guidance.’
Public Health England data showed 1,369 of the positive cases in England (37%) were among the UK’s Asian population.White people made up 1,976 cases (53%), while and black, African, Caribbean and black British people made 5%.
A review by the body said the relationship between ethnicity and the disease is ‘complex’ and likely to be the result of a ‘combination of factors’ including socioeconomic issues.
It said people in BAME communities are at greater risk of catching Covid-19 because they are more likely to live in urban and deprived areas, live in overcrowded households and have jobs that leave them more exposed.
Director of the Tell MAMA anti-racism hotline Iman Atta OBE said: ‘We call on Craig Whittaker MP to apologise and withdrawn his remarks, and for the Conservative Party to investigate his comments which claimed that Muslim and other minority communities are not ‘taking the pandemic seriously.
‘The deep disappointment many Muslims in the affected areas feel about not being able to visit families on Eid should be treated with empathy, not blame, as community safety is something Muslims have practice throughout the pandemic.’
He said coronavirus is having ‘a devastating impact on Muslim communities’ and said socioeconomic factors were a major factor.
He added: ‘Community safety is something we all take seriously, but to single out one community this way is wholly wrong, stigmatising, and unbecoming of an MP.’
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