A Conservative MP has said the “vast majority” of the BAME community in his West Yorkshire constituency are “not taking the pandemic seriously”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Thursday evening that “immediate action” was needed across Greater Manchester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire to keep people safe.
The new restrictions mean members of different households are not be able to meet indoors.
The measures apply to the West Yorkshire areas of Bradford, Calderdale – which includes the town of Halifax – and Kirklees – which includes the town of Huddersfield.
Craig Whittaker, MP for Calder Valley, attributed the spike in coronavirus cases in his constituency to “the BAME community”.
He told LBC: “What I have seen in my constituency is we have areas of my community that are not taking the pandemic seriously.”
Pressed on whether it was the Muslim community he was referring to, Mr Whittaker said: “Of course, and if you look at the areas where we have seen rises and cases, the vast majority – not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – but it is the BAME community that are not taking this seriously enough.”
He added: “I’ve been challenging our local leaders now for two weeks, at least, asking what are we doing to target these areas, to let people know that this is still a very serious problem and until people take it seriously then we are not going to get rid of this pandemic.”
Mr Whittaker also said people on “high-occupancy housing” were also not taking the pandemic seriously.
“It’s not just the Asian communities in our areas. We also have areas of high, multiple occupancy that are in the same boat,” he said.
Pressed on whether he was talking about immigrant communities, he said: “We are. Immigrant and Asian populations.”
Mr Whittaker’s comments have been condemned by a number of Labour leaders and MPs.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Times Radio: “To be frank, the Tory Party should do something about it because it is quite disgraceful, what he was saying.”
Calderdale Council’s Labour leader Tim Swift said the MP’s comments were “very unhelpful” and “quite irresponsible and unfair”.
He said: “We don’t need to divide people, this is a threat for all of us.”
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, tweeted: “This racist rhetoric is based on prejudice, not facts.
“It serves to pander to the far right contingent in the Tory Party who’ll look to blame anyone but their own Govt.
“It’s racially charged scapegoating designed to fuel the far right, don’t buy into it.”
Asked if he agreed with Mr Whittaker’s comments, Boris Johnson said: “I think it’s up to all of us 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.”
In a further interview with the PA news agency, Mr Whittaker said he was talking specifically about the situation in his constituency, particularly in three wards in Halifax where there was a high proportion of Asian residents, or houses of multiple occupancy.
He said: “We have come from a situation where the infection rate was very low and we have seen spikes in those areas, but not exclusively to those areas.”
Asked if he was right to state BAME people had not been taking the rules seriously enough, he replied: “What else could I say?
“The reality is, this pandemic has not gone away, we have seen spikes in these areas, something is happening.
“Social distancing has clearly not been adhered to.”
It comes as MPs in the north of England called for clarity over the new measures in the north of England amid confusion and criticism over the “late-night” announcement.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also suggested the announcement would have been better suited to a press conference.
“No one would argue with putting in place local action to reduce the transmission of coronavirus,” he said on Twitter.
“But announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the Government’s communications during this crisis.
“When the Government ended the daily press conferences, they said they would hold them for ‘significant announcements’, including local lockdowns.
“It’s hard to imagine what could be more significant than this.”