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Fri, 18 September 2020

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Tory MP Craig Whittaker claims 'Muslim and BAME' communities not taking coronavirus pandemic seriously

Tory MP Craig Whittaker claims 'Muslim and BAME' communities not taking coronavirus pandemic seriously

The Conservative MP made the comments following the announcement of new local lockdowns (PA)

3 min read

Tory MP Craig Whittaker has claimed 'Muslim and BAME' communities are not taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously following the announcement of new local lockdowns across England.

The Conservative MP, whose Calder Valley constituency is included in the latest local lockdown, has accused Muslim communities living in his area of failing to follow social distancing guidelines.

New restrictions were imposed late last night banning seperate households from meeting indoors in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the move was in response to a spike in infections driven by a "lack of social distancing".

But speaking to LBC, Mr Whittaker said: "What I have seen in my constituency is we have areas in our community and sections of our community that are not taking the pandemic seriously."

Asked if he was referring to the Muslim community, he replied: "Of course".

"If you look at the areas where we've seen rises and cases, the vast majority - not by any stretch of the imagination all areas - but it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough."

He added: "I've been challenging our local leaders for... three weeks, asking what we are doing to target these areas to let people know that this is a very serious problem.

"Until people take it seriously, we're not going to get rid of this pandemic.

"We have areas of high multiple occupancy who are in the same boat... and it doesn't specifically have to be in the Asian community, but that is the largest proportion.

"Look at the areas. You've got Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees. Bradford, in particular, and Kirklees have two of the largest populations in West Yorkshire."

Pressed on whether he was talking about immigrant communities in those areas, he responded: "Yeah, well, immigrant and Asian population".

Boris Johnson was grilled on the comments at Friday's Number 10 press conference as he announced that the Government is pausing a host of lockdown easing measures amid an uptick in coronavirus cases.

Mr Johnson said: "It's up to all of us in in government to make sure that the message is being heard loud and clear by everybody across the country and to make sure that everybody is complying with the guidance and a huge amount of effort is now going into that."

He added: "I want to thank all the community leaders, thank everybody the imams who worked hard with us to to get messages across, all faith leaders and other communities, getting that message across throughout society.

"But ultimately it's up to everybody, it's up to the whole country to get this right and to do it together."

Hitting out at the comments, Labour's shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said Mr Johnson should take action against Mr Whittaker's "overt racism".

"Disgraceful and overt racism from this Tory MP blaming Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, the very people whose lives and livelihoods have been the worst hit by Covid-19," she tweeted.

"Boris Johnson must condemn this comment and take action."

'HEART GOES OUT'

The row comes after Matt Hancock insisted the new restrictions had not been put in place to curtail gatherings during the Muslim festival of Eid.

Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, the Health Secretary said: "No, and my heart goes out to the Muslim communities in these areas because I know how important the Eid celebrations are.

"I'm very grateful to the local Muslim leaders, the imams in fact, across the country who've been working so hard to find a way to have Covid-secure celebrations.

"For instance celebrating Eid in parks where there's more space available and of course outdoors is safer than indoors."

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