Matt Hancock is ‘dangerous’, and he’s fomenting racism. At least that’s the view of Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi.
Last week the Health Secretary urged everyone to ‘look at what is happening in Bolton, where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but had chosen not yet to have it. [They] have ended up in hospital, some of them in intensive care.’
To Qureshi this was offensive to her and her constituents. ‘Already you can see an element of racism coming through,’ she claimed.
‘This is really unhelpful. It wasn’t vaccine hesitancy; it’s that it wasn’t rolled out well enough and this Conservative Government is blaming everyone but themselves and it causes tension.’
Matt Hancock is ‘dangerous’, and he’s fomenting racism. At least that’s the view of Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi (pictured)
Last week the Health Secretary urged everyone to ‘look at what is happening in Bolton, where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but had chosen not yet to have it. [They] have ended up in hospital, some of them in intensive care.’ To Qureshi this was offensive to her and her constituents. ‘Already you can see an element of racism coming through,’ she claimed
She also attacked the ‘shambolic’ decision to leave India off the travel red list.
But Yasmin Qureshi is wrong. It isn’t Matt Hancock who’s acting dangerously. It’s all those people who are looking at the situation in Bolton and, for reasons of misplaced political correctness, attempting to brush the truth under the carpet. With the effect that thousands of black and Asian Britons could needlessly lose their lives.
It’s certainly true that Ministers were too slow to place travellers from India into quarantine. As early as April 17 there were calls for its addition to the red list. But the checks weren’t introduced until a week later, and only after Boris Johnson had cancelled his own trip to India.
But that’s only part of the story. Among Ministers there is mounting frustration the red list debate is distracting from the reality that, even before the new regulations were introduced, people were banned from travelling abroad but the regulations were routinely flouted.
The issue is so sensitive that within Government the figures aren’t routinely published.
However, leaked documents I’ve seen show the scale of the problem. In the two weeks between March 3 and March 17, there were 14,978 tested arrivals into the UK from Pakistan – the country with the single highest number of travellers. Of those, 695 tested positive for Covid-19.
For comparison, over the same period there were 5,206 tested arrivals from France, of whom 29 tested positive.
Yasmin Qureshi is wrong. It isn’t Matt Hancock who’s acting dangerously. It’s all those people who are looking at the situation in Bolton (above) and, for reasons of misplaced political correctness, attempting to brush the truth under the carpet. With the effect that thousands of black and Asian Britons could needlessly lose their lives
According to the documents, airlines flying direct to the UK have been forced to introduce stricter testing measures over ‘concerns related to fraudulent test certificates’. But when Ministers moved to place Pakistan and Bangladesh on the red list, they were criticised by MPs. One of whom was Yasmin Qureshi.
On April 7 she wrote to Boris Johnson in her capacity as chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistan. She said: ‘Many UK citizens have travelled to those countries in accordance with the Government’s guidelines. The vast majority will have travelled to visit family, including elderly relatives, whom they may not have seen in over a year. They will already have paid for return flights.’
But at that time, travel was supposed to be permitted only in exceptional circumstances. And, as we know, many people in the UK have been denied the opportunity to see relatives during the Covid crisis.
Then there is the claim that vaccine hesitancy has played no part in the situation in Bolton.
Though Mr Hancock made no mention of ethnicity, this was at the heart of the criticism aimed at him. The implication that reluctance in the black and Asian community to take the vaccine was a factor in the spike in cases.
Hard figures on ethnicity and vaccinations for Bolton are difficult to obtain, even though they are collected. NHS England, which collates national figures, could only provide me with a regional breakdown. Bolton NHS Foundation Trust told me the Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group was leading the vaccination drive. The CCG didn’t return my calls.
But we have regional figures for vaccine take-up by ethnic group, and they’re terrifying.
In the North West, those identifying as white British who are over 50 and have received at least one dose stands at 93.2 per cent. For black British Africans it’s 67.1 per cent. For black British Caribbeans it is 67.7 per cent, and for British Pakistanis it is 73.7 per cent.
The perception over the last week is that Bolton as a whole is seeing a huge spike in cases. But the local council has identified the most heavily affected areas as Rumworth, Deane and Great Lever.
According to the local GP Federation, ‘the Deane/Rumworth neighbourhood has a BME [black and minority ethnic] population of 43.1 per cent, which equates to around 21,800 people, making it one of the largest such communities in the town’.
In Great Lever, the demographic profile is similar. Further evidence of the challenges in vaccinating black and Asian communities is provided by Ms Qureshi herself. In February, she appeared on Newsnight and called for ethnic minorities to be prioritised for vaccinations, saying that ‘there has to be a proactive approach of trying to approach a certain demographic’.
It’s certainly true that Ministers were too slow to place travellers from India into quarantine. As early as April 17 there were calls for its addition to the red list. But the checks weren’t introduced until a week later, and only after Boris Johnson had cancelled his own trip to India. But that’s only part of the story. (Above, Terminal 2 this week as travellers from Covid-stricken India are seen just yards away from other flyers as they are escorted to quarantine)
It should be pointed out that Ms Qureshi is not alone in her recent attempts to play down the issue of low vaccine take-up. Caroline Noakes, Tory chairman of the Commons Equalities Committee, hit out at those she said were ‘scapegoating’ such communities. Which is a perfectly legitimate stance to take. But scapegoating isn’t the problem here.
Back in March, I wrote how we needed to be honest about the way liberal sensitivity over vaccine hesitancy was leading us to disaster. I was accused of scaremongering and, inevitably, racism.
But now we’re seeing the impact of that misplaced liberalism. Ministers know that vaccine hesitancy has directly led to hospitalisations in Bolton. According to Government officials, 90 per cent of patients there have not been fully vaccinated, even though they are eligible.
The Government wants to spread the word about this, so people will realise the dangers and get the jab. But to those blinded by multicultural idealism, this is anathema. So they would rather deflect and dissemble than give people the truth.
As a result of which, many of those at most risk won’t hear this vital message, won’t get vaccinated and will die.
On Wednesday, David Greenhalgh, the leader of Bolton Council, warned there could be civil unrest if his town was placed into a new local lockdown. This was immediately seized upon as evidence of how Mr Hancock’s comments were placing ‘community cohesion’ in jeopardy.
It’s not Mr Hancock’s comments that are placing community cohesion in jeopardy.
What’s placing community cohesion in jeopardy is people who have been offered the Covid vaccine refusing the Covid vaccine.
The Government has tried everything. TV appeals. National advertising campaigns. Mobile vaccination buses. Leafleting campaigns. Surge testing. Translators. Entreaties to faith leaders. Pop-up vaccination centres.
Enough. No more excuses. No more infantilisation of our ethnic minority communities.
In less than a month, the country is going to reopen fully. At that point Covid is going to come hunting like a vengeful vampire for anyone vulnerable who does not enjoy the protection of the vaccine. And based on current figures, tens of thousands of black and Asian Britons are going to provide it with its victims.
Last week Ms Qureshi said this: ‘If you work 60 hours a week on a factory floor, six days a week, for minimum wage, without access to a car – are you really going to have time to book a vaccine appointment, take a day’s holiday, and take two buses to get to the vaccination centre?’
The answer is Yes. If you need to wait half an hour on the phone to book your appointment, you should. If you have to take a day’s holiday to get your jab, you must. If you need to take two buses to get an appointment, you have to.
In the 1980s, during the Aids crisis, we pledged we wouldn’t let people die of ignorance.
We cannot stand back during the Covid crisis and let them die of political correctness.