For the last year, there have been anecdotal reports of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting South Asian communities in British Columbia, but the province hadn’t provided any data to contextualize the situation.
Now the government has given the number of cases on a neighbourhood level for one week at the height of the third wave — and it appears to underline those claims.
“It is consistent with what we have expected and anticipated,” said Dr. Birinder Narang, a physician and member of the South Asian COVID-19 Task Force.
There are eight community health services areas (CHSAs) where at least 25 per cent of people identify as South Asian in the 2016 Census. All eight were in the 13 areas the province has scheduled mass AstraZeneca vaccine clinics due to high transmission.
Those eight hotspots are all in Fraser Valley South, and all have at least 35 per cent immigrant populations.
“While we didn’t have the data to inform that before, I think that this just adds to what we already knew,” said Narang.
“I think if we had that data earlier on in the pandemic, then there could have been resources targeted to these areas where we know there have been more people affected.”
‘More concerted effort’
In the second wave of the pandemic, cases surged between Delta and Abbotsford, and the province noted significant transmission was happening among people of South Asian descent.
But there was also criticism the province failed to provide enough communication in a multitude of South Asian languages, or acknowledge the economic and social reasons multi-generational households could increase spread.
Narang said the province had improved somewhat on both fronts, but more could be done.
“I think that there has been a more concerted effort … through mainstream media, ethnic media, town halls and community outreach,” he said, while saying the province could provide more funding to grassroots organizations trying to fill the gap.
B.C. lags behind in data
The data is only a snapshot of one week’s worth of cases in CHSAs — 195 smaller neighbourhood health regions across the province — and only for the 13 CHSAs with the highest transmission.
After months of declining to do so, in late 2020 the government started providing weekly data for local health regions (LHAs). While Vancouver has six LHAs, every other municipality has only one at most, including Surrey.
Narang said having that level of data through the pandemic would have been helpful in warning communities when cases were rising in their neighbourhoods.
“There have been accessibility issues to information, to testing potentially, and also now with vaccinations,” he said.
“And so at all levels of the pandemic, having that data to guide us could have kind of strengthened the responses and targeted responses in these areas.”
SFU professor Ahmed Al-Rawi, director of The Disinformation Project at SFU, said B.C.’s decision to not provide COVID-19 data at the same level as most Canadian provinces has had drawbacks.
“It’s frustrating, to be honest with you, because the public should know what is going on,” he said.
“People are already frustrated with the lack of information about what to do. They need to know more in order to give them more assurances about how things are going, and hope that what they are doing is working.”
Last Thursday CBC News asked the government if they would provide case counts for the 182 other CHSAs in the province, and sent subsequent emails and phone calls to the BC Centre for Disease Control, Ministry of Health and premier’s office in hopes of getting a response.
To date, one has not been sent.