Stop stigmatizing South Asians for high infection rates

Posted by Rishi In: English No comments
Celebrations take place in 2019, before COVID-19 arrived in Canada, at the Dashmesh Culture Centre, a Sikh temple in northeast Calgary. Late last month, Premier Jason Kenney issued what he termed a “wake-up call” to South Asians to stop gathering. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

On Wednesday, Nov. 25, Premier Jason Kenney was on the air at Red FM, a local South Asian radio station. It was the day after he announced new restrictions in the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

In response to the very first question, the premier said, “Let me be absolutely blunt and get to the point. The largest spread in the province is in northeast Calgary, and we see a very high level of spread of COVID-19 in the South Asian community.” 

He added, “I don’t say that to blame or target anyone. The fact of the matter is this: one of the beautiful, wonderful things about my friends in the South Asian community is a strong, strong sense of family and hospitality. And people have, very often in the community, have large families, multi-generational families. I have great respect, great respect for how so many South Asian families care for their seniors, their grandma and grandpa at home.”

Expanding on his point, Kenney said, “And sometimes three, four generations. And we know that it’s a tradition to have big family gatherings at home. And we think this is one of the reasons why we have seen a much higher level of spread.… So I’m calling with a wake-up call. We must have people understand the new law is no social functions at home.”

After the interview, this clip made huge ripples in the media and over social media.

The host (me, as a matter of fact) asked for clarification, pointing out that part of the problem with COVID-19 spread is the huge number of drivers, janitors, airport and care workers in the South Asian community out working during the pandemic. To this, Kenney said he acknowledged their services and thanked them. 

Many questions remain

It is a very complex problem. Do South Asians get infected more because of their culture? Do they get more infected because so many of them are front-line workers? 

Many doctors say South Asians are more prone to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac problems, etc., than many other communities. Could it be a racial issue?

Many people have raised questions about Premier Kenney’s statement about South Asians. Many have asked why he didn’t speak against those who organize anti-mask rallies? 

This question is certainly not out of context.

Why is mask wearing not mandatory in the province? Why is Alberta’s tracing app not working? Why is Alberta not adopting the federal tracing app? Why is contact tracing not being done? 

Those are all, also, very good questions.

The premier replied to these questions as well. But why are they not his focus? Why only the South Asian issue? 

South Asians make an enormous contribution to the Alberta economy. Many of them cannot work from home. 

Northeast under attack

Calgary-SW and Calgary-Upper NE are two of the 132 “local geographic areas” that the province uses in reporting COVID-19 cases.

The population in Calgary-SW is 114,710. The number of active COVID-19 cases (as of Monday, Dec. 7) was 381, which works out to 332.1 cases per 100,000 people. In Calgary-Upper NE, the population is 114,978. The number of active cases is 1,639, or 1425.5 cases per 100,000 people. Similar population numbers, but nearly five times the number of active cases.

The northeast is a dense melting pot and now the novel coronavirus is attacking them.

Where are the extra resources to support these citizens? Where are the PPE kits for them? Where are the top-up wages for these workers? Where are the education programs or seminars or webinars for them? 

The culture is not the only factor responsible for the super spread of the virus in this area. 

So don’t stigmatize South Asians. Don’t play on their sentiments. And don’t play political games with their fate.

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