Tuesday September 21, 2021

‘Eat Out scheme triggered higher deaths in Pakistani, Bangladeshi groups’

July 21, 2021

LONDON: Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme last summer may have triggered a rise in COVID-19 related deaths among Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, a scientist has said, foreign media reported.

Since more people from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities in the UK work in small restaurants and eating joints, Professor Parvez Haris of De Montfort University said the government subsidised Eat Out to Help Out scheme may have “backfired” for these groups, who bore the brunt of high Covid-19 infections and more deaths during the second wave as compared to whites and other communities.

In an interview with Eastern Eye on Monday (19), Prof Haris explained how a surge in customers in restaurants during the pandemic created an “ideal environment” for high exposure to the virus.

“Everyone worked together to increase profits and so forth, forgetting perhaps the fact that there is a virus around and that could have an impact.”

“Often, seven to eight, even 10 people are working in a very close amount of space, in very close proximity. So, there is a lot of exchange of droplets of the virus - be it influenza virus, or some other bacteria or the Covid-19 virus,” he said.

In contrast to whites as well as other ethnic groups, Prof Haris claimed there was a dramatic increase in deaths, among men and women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicities during the second wave of Covid.

The Bangladeshi group had the highest mortality rates, almost five and four times greater as compared to white British men and women respectively

The Office for National Statistics shows that more than 30 per cent of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi population in the UK work in the hospitality industry, higher than any other ethnic group, while almost 20 per cent work in transport.

Prof Haris also pointed out how black people did not see a spike in deaths in the second wave since most of them work in safer conditions and have adapted well to safety standards.

“About 43.6 per cent of black people work in organised sectors like education and health, so they got the opportunity to work remotely, along with access to safety measures,” he said.

More than 30 per cent of Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are self-employed in the UK making them the “highest number of self-employed groups of any ethnic community”.

They are mostly in small businesses where they neither have resources nor the “luxury of working from home,” the academic said.

Asian communities are also more vulnerable to Covid-19, Prof Haris said, adding there is a higher incidence of diabetes among Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as compared to white people.

Having diabetes increases the risk of Covid-19, leading to hospitalisation and even deaths.

Prof Haris pointed out higher death rates in Leicester, northwest England, Yorkshire and Bradford, where the “Eat Out to Help Out'' schemes were taken up largely”.

He explained: “Small kitchens in restaurants and fast-food outlets with seating were packed with staff serving unusually high numbers of customers taking advantage of these heavily discounted meals.”