hen the pandemic struck Sadia Yasmin found herself without a job.
“It wasn’t good for my mental health, I was struggling to find a job,” said the 20-year-old from Canning Town in Newham — an area which has seen some of the highest Covid rates in the UK and has been at the heart of London’s so-called Covid triangle.
The former retail worker became a carer in a retirement home. “It was my first time in public health,” she said. “I was seeing things and feeling things I’d never felt before. The pressure, people passing, I saw that daily.
“We couldn’t wander around, I couldn’t go visit the residents because they were isolating in their own room.
Sadia Yasmin works at a Covid-19 testing centre in Newham
/ Chiara Brambilla
“It was really sad. There were a lot of residents who weren’t understanding why they were isolating. They would shout out ‘what have I done wrong? Why can’t I come out of my room?’”
During the first wave, Newham recorded some of the highest death rates in the UK. There have been 621 coronavirus-related deaths registered up to January 22.
For Sadia, who lives with her parents, three sisters and brother, the fear of bringing the virus home caused extreme stress.
“I was the only one who was in contact with people who had Covid,” she said. “I didn’t want to go near my family. But we all caught it in the end.”
Newham is encouraging residents to be tested for Covid-19 at least twice at week
/ Chiara Brambilla
Now Sadia has been vaccinated and receives a daily Covid test as part of her new job at a rapid Covid testing centre — one of 12 Newham council has set up.
Shibu Raj, 46, has also been employed at one of Newham’s testing centres after losing his job at London City Airport. Last year he, his wife and two children all tested positive for Covid. “It was hard,” he said. “I’m very glad I’m here.”
Covid has been shown to have a disproportionate impact on minorities and Newham is the most ethnically diverse area in the UK, with almost three quarters of residents coming from black or Asian backgrounds. It is also London’s most crowded borough with a population of some 345,000 people and just 112,600 homes.
The council has earmarked £6 million to pay for hotel rooms for those who test positive for Covid and live in overcrowded accommodation to try to stop the virus spreading.
Director of public health Jason Strelitz said: “We’re going to be dealing with these issues for likely years to come. Enabling people of multi-generational households to have that option of support in isolation is vital.”
Newham now has more Covid testing centres than anywhere else in London
/ Lucy Young
As well as pushing testing, public health bosses in Newham have found themselves battling misinformation around the vaccine, with false rumours about its side-effects circulating online and through letterboxes.
Council figures show take-up of the jab has varied across the over-80s.
Almost 80 per cent of white elderly residents took the vaccine. The figures for the Asian population show a 70 per cent take-up but just 44 per cent of Newham’s black over-80s had received the jab by January 26.
Mr Strelitz said: “We need to do work with our NHS colleagues to really reach out.”