Government criticised for one-size-fits-all approach to Covid-19

25th Sep 2020
Government criticised for one-size-fits-all approach to Covid-19

(Photo credit: Willi Heidelbach / Pxhere)

The Government’s one-size-fits-all approach to slowing down the spread of Covid-19 may have made the initial imposed lockdown measures ineffective on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, suggest SAGE and University of Leicester scientists.

The failure to tailor the targeting for different communities is merely the latest in a series of failings by this administration. These failures are not only due to the inability of ministers to communicate the Government’s message but also due to the lack of preparedness, including the inability to supply PPE, provide adequate testing facilities or more recently, manage the vital testing, tracing and contacting required to combat the deadly disease.

A recently published paper by the scientific body that advises the Government in emergencies spells out that messages should be tailored to reflect local realities “to help deal with the disproportionate impact on BAME people.”

SAGE says culturally appropriate communication may promote health-protective behaviours which can minimise the risk of Covid-19 in these communities. But while translation into a range of languages is necessary, it warned that it is “not sufficient.” What is essential is the “co-production and pre-testing of health messages with the target community to identify language that retains the meaning of the core message and considers the cultural context for the target audience.”

In August, Professor of Diversity in Public Health and Director of the Institute for Health Research at University of Bedfordshire, Gurch Randhawa, said he was “flabbergasted” by the failure of the Government’s original action plan for dealing with Covid-19 to ensure the provision of “tailored messaging” for the country’s diverse population.

Despite having a body of law and other instruments such as equality impact assessments, designed to lessen inequalities in many fields, “for whatever reason, to date the Government has not used those tools,” the leading public health academic told London Assembly Members.

Health messages need to explicitly consider cultural norms, including high-risk events (e.g., Eid and weddings), ensure they promote accessible services (e.g., multilingual contact tracers) and do not disadvantage the target community (e.g., loss of income due to self-isolation).

Figures have repeatedly shown that minority groups have disproportionately suffered and died of Covid-19, yet the Government is still dithering with the findings to tackle the cause that is exacerbated by discriminatory health policies. Muslims, in particular, often find themselves at the bottom of the pile as apparently easy targets.

At best, the Government’s response to the merciless pandemic has been faltering with some even suggesting that ministers have blood on their hands due to their incompetence.

Looking for scapegoats, many in the Government have chosen to blame everyone apart from themselves for the gross shortcomings we have seen. Worse had been particularly disdainful attempts to blame Muslims for the pandemic, which Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and his cabinet have avoided condemning despite being explicitly allowed to do so.

Many other issues that have affected the Muslim community have also not been covered in the report. For example, the Government advertising campaigns on Covid-19 related issues have not targeted Muslims as much as it should have.

For example, the Government used non-Muslim ethnic media to send Muslim related messages. During Ramadan, the Government’s campaign to tell Muslims to hold Taraweeh prayers [night prayers] at home and not in mosques did not use Muslim papers like The Muslim News; instead, they used non-Muslim ethnic media to send such messages.

BAME communities facing an excessive burden from the fallout from Covid-19 should not be a surprise. Poorer communities always represent those at highest risk of exposure and need maximum protection. While targeted messages may help, much more is needed to make it a level playing field in the country.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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