We won’t beat COVID-19 if we don’t understand the problem

This is a fascinating report from the BBC on Coronavirus on my home city, Bradford. 

I had already seen some reports of smaller towns and villages which are included within the metropolitan district complaining that they had been included in measures because the local authority did not want to make distinctions within its boundaries.

Meanwhile this photograph gives us another example of how to completely mishandle the situation and cause maximum cultural offence.

It does not take much brain work to realise why this image is likely to cause offence in inner city Bradford. Imagine sending Muslims round an estate with banners instructing people how to celebrate Easter.

We are entering a particularly sensitive stage of the pandemic. Get things right and we can steadily progress towards normality again. Get things wrong and lives will be risked.  The danger is that

  • We communicate so badly and insensitively in areas where warnings and advice is needed with the result that we alienate whole communities making it less and less likely that they will comply with measures that are in fact designed for their own well-being.
  • We end up being like the boy who cried wolf by asking people to comply with measures that cause them inconvenience when there is no need. Again, this makes it less likely that they will comply with measures when they actually need to.

The first rule of problem solving is that before you take action you need to accurately define and understand the nature of the problem. I am not convinced that Bradford Council have done this.  Understanding the problem when it comes to Coronavirus spikes means asking some very basic questions.

  1. What is the actual problem?
  2. Where is it happening?
  3. Who is affected?
  4. How is the problem presenting itself?
  5. When is it happening?
  6. Why is it happening?

The first three questions are designed to get us to the answer for question 4.  Reports suggest  know that the particular clusters of cases in the lockdown areas are primarily affecting BAME communities.  Now, we have two ways of responding to that.  The first is to immediately blame Black and Asian communities for the current problems.  We would recognise such a response as having racist undertones. However, the other approach of failing to take time to understand why those communities are affected is also potentially racist in its failure to prioritise keeping people from Black and Asian backgrounds safe.

Now, here are two of the reasons that have been suggested for why some communities have been particularly affected by the virus.

Housing conditions

The consensus seems to be that there is a greater risk of the virus spreading in areas where there is high density, multi-generational occupancy of housing.  In other words, the virus is hitting people in areas of social and economic deprivation but also it is affecting people who show a greater concern for the extended family.

  • Working conditions

There are a high number of people from Black and Asian backgrounds working in the care sector and therefore on the frontline in the battle with COVID-19.  Throughout the virus we have consistently heard about the shortage of PPE provision especially to those providing care support in the community and to care homes.

I have also heard anecdotally of people working in factories and warehouses where there has been little concern for social distancing and wearing PPE has been frowned upon.  If you are on a low income and there are concerns about the economy and potential job losses then you are much less likely to challenge or report such issues.

These two issues have one vital thing in common. They have been problems that have persisted throughout the lockdown and they are unlikely to go away because local lockdowns are re-introduced. 

We need to do better at asking those vital questions “What? Where? Who? Why?”

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