Opinion

Leicester’s Lockdown: Why are Black and Asian communities still being let down in the Covid-19 crisis

For writer Renuka Odedra, watching her hometown of Leicester go into a second lockdown only demonstrates how her community has been continuously overlooked throughout the coronavirus pandemic. 

I was born and raised in Leicester, and saying “I am from Leicester” has always made me proud. I take pride in being a first-generation British Indian, too, knowing my parents came to this city in the 1980s to provide us with a better future.

I love the fact that Leicester is also the home of the 2016 Premier League Champions, DNA fingerprinting, Walkers crisps, the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India and the first local radio station. But, over the past week, it has been a city that you would rather not be a resident of.

In one week alone, the number of people I know who have tested positive for coronavirus has piled up to the point where I can list a dozen without thinking. These are relatives, friends, and people in the community - my community.

These are people who come from mainly low-income families. All are from ‘minority’ ethnic backgrounds. The irony is that Leicester’s ethnic ‘minority’ groups make up anything but a minority: 21% of the city’s population is from Black or Asian backgrounds and 28% are of Indian heritage.

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And this is what makes the rising number of Covid-19 cases in my hometown sting a little more.

The media is focusing on our fear during this latest surge of coronavirus cases. Yes, there is fear. But angling this story on fear alone fails to hold anybody to account for the rise in cases. Fear simplifies the story when there is a lot more going on. People are angry and confused. Behind the numbers, there are stories of struggle and desperation.

Leicester has numerous clothing factories, some of which have come under fire for acting like modern-day sweatshops in the past. For not providing adequate working conditions and paying workers less than the minimum wage. These are the people being affected the most during such a difficult time.

Thanks to first-hand accounts from family and friends, I know how the virus has ravaged through factories, with a string of garment workers testing positive. Some of these people live in houses where an entire family sleep in the same bedroom. Many workers had been forced to go back to work months ago due to financial pressures.

This localised ‘outbreak’ has unveiled one, if not many, societal issues in Leicester. The Black and Asian community and those facing poverty have suffered the most from coronavirus. The city has acted as an ideal host for the virus to spread in, under its current condition.

Leicester is a diverse city, yes. But its diversity shouldn’t be used as an excuse to in some way contextualise the spike in numbers - and I’m tired of it being used in that way. Actions speak louder than words. The government knows we are one of the most vulnerable groups.

Analysis and research have proved for some time now that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and more likely to die as a result of contracting it. Why did you not protect us then? Why did local authorities fail to reach out and safeguard these groups?

You failed to protect us when you allowed schools to reopen. You failed us when the Prime Minister urged us to go back to work but stay at home if we could. You failed to recognise that coronavirus does see colour. And you certainly failed when Black and Asian key workers continued to die with the lack thereof Personal Protection Equipment.

The mental attitude of the community right now is ‘everyone is going to get it, sooner or later’. They have surrendered their fate to a system which has failed to protect them.

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On Monday 29 June, Boris Johnson said “we have to remain vigilant” and have “local lockdowns and local ‘whack-a-mole’ strategies where necessary.” But Leicester is not a problem that needs to be plastered over. Johnson is a part of the same government whose failures over the handling of coronavirus were present from the very beginning. There would be no moles spreading if their tunnels were dealt with adequately in the first place.

Whilst you pushed and pulled on who did and did not have the authority to impose a localised lockdown - I was thinking about my loved ones with health conditions for whom coronavirus could be fatal. I know families taking precautions and staying indoors to protect themselves. I know people who have no income and are torn between not being able to keep up with their monthly bills or risk their health by going back to work.

The question remains - how much do the local council and government value the lives of Black and Asian people in Leicester?

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