Dr. Amanpreet Brar: The COVID-19 Response Continues To Fail The Most Vulnerable

New race-based data renews calls for a community-based approach to fighting the pandemic

Dr. Amanpreet Brar 
January 21, 2021 | 4 min. read

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has unmasked structural and societal inequities and highlights the importance of a community-focused lens to understand the barriers to health. 

As per today’s Toronto race-based data release, South Asians and Black communities continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.  

For instance, South Asians represent 27% of COVID-19 cases. This number is even more striking when one looks at the Peel Region race-based data, where South Asians make up 31.6% of the population but represent 58.7% of the COVID-19 cases in the region. 

Brampton is often ostracized for the spike in cases, and there is undoubtedly an undertone of racial biases being exemplified. The persistent workplace and healthcare inequities faced by these communities are largely ignored. 

A number of community advocates and physicians have stepped in to push back these narratives and shed light on the harsh inequities faced by our city for decades that have only been unmasked during the pandemic.  

Let’s take a look at some of these harsh and persistent inequities when examining Brampton in particular, a city that has remained home to one of the highest COVID-19 incidence and positivity rates despite strict lockdown measures and numerous community-led initiatives to fight transmission. 

Firstly, a large percentage of the workforce in Brampton works in factories, warehouses, food processing, transportation, transit, and precarious sectors. The largest industry group in Brampton is manufacturing (14.7% of all industry groups). 

According to the 2018 StatsCan survey, trades, transport, and equipment operators made up close to 20% of Brampton’s labour force, including those delivering us essential goods and those crossing the border to COVID-19 hotspots in the United States.

During the strictest of lockdown periods, manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of even non-essential items such as luxury clothing has continued in Brampton.  Peel Public Health has reported that more than 39% of all workplace outbreaks are within the manufacturing sector and there have been more than 1,500 workplace outbreaks in Peel.  

Moreover, these workers are often employed through temporary employment agencies without a job contract, paid sick leave, health insurance benefits, and migrate between workplaces risking their lives doing hazardous frontline jobs.  These workers struggle on minimum wage and live in crowded basements or houses due to a lack of affordable housing and child daycare services. 

Secondly, Brampton has been under-resourced for many decades. As per Mayor Patrick Brown, Brampton receives approximately nearly a thousand dollars less in health care funding per capita than elsewhere in Ontario. The provincial average for hospital beds is 2.19 per 1000 residents. Brampton, however, only clocks in at 0.96 beds per 1000 residents. 

Moreover, Brampton was one of the hardest-hit regions in Canada during the current COVID-19 pandemic but did not get an isolation centre till January 2021, a year into the pandemic - a year too late. This fact becomes even more glaring when we consider that governments are well aware of how common multi-generational homes are across South Asian communities and the challenges that present for those wishing to self-isolate.

We need to urgently address healthcare inequities for a community that is already vulnerable and bearing the brunt of the current global health crisis while providing food and goods to all of us in the comfort of our homes. 

Thirdly, government public health response has been inadequate in providing messaging to all Canadians - some of whom do not speak English or do not consume the mainstream media. 

For many Canadians, multicultural media is a way of staying connected to one’s culture and heritage and is a heavily relied upon source of information. The owners and representatives of such media outlets are often influential ambassadors and trusted by communities. These media outlets are struggling financially and have been underutilized to provide life-saving critical information. 

To stigmatize vulnerable racialized communities further without addressing the root causes of workplace, health care, and public health inequities is not an appropriate or equitable strategy to halt the spread of the current pandemic. The time is ticking to address these workplace and healthcare inequities and support high-risk communities that keep our lives safe and the economy turning. 

Let's ensure workers, specifically temporary agency employees, receive basic employment benefits and workplace protections such as job security, paid sick leave, and health insurance benefits. We need to hold the hands of these essential front-line workers and ensure they are supported during the global health crisis so that they can safely isolate, get tested and focus on their health without worrying about losing their job every moment. 

As we combat the second wave, develop an inclusive vaccination strategy, and disseminate vaccine and COVID-19 related information, it is still not too late to incorporate community ambassadors in the shape of local organizations and multicultural media in our armamentarium to deliver life-saving information. 

To have meaningful change in racialized and marginalized communities, the above issues have to be addressed urgently as they continue to negatively impact the lives of vulnerable Canadians. 

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Dr. Amanpreet (Preet) Brar is a General Surgery Resident in the Department of Surgery, UofT and is a member of Humans in Brampton. You cand find her on Twitter at @iPreetBrar.


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