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Covid-19

France's African, Asian communities worst hit by Covid-19

INSEE statistics on 7 July show that Covid-related death rates were among the highest in the Seine-Saint-Denis district where the sub-Saharan African population was hardest hit.
INSEE statistics on 7 July show that Covid-related death rates were among the highest in the Seine-Saint-Denis district where the sub-Saharan African population was hardest hit. © AFP/Ludovic Marin

France’s male population of under 65-year-olds from sub-Saharan Africa was the worst affected by the coronavirus during March and April when the country was under lockdown.

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The findings by INSEE, the French government’s statistics agency, are the closest France has come to acknowledging with numbers the virus's disproportionate impact on the country's minority groups.

“The increase in deaths was higher among people born in Africa – 114 percent more among the population from sub-Saharan Africa, compared to the same period in 2019," wrote the authors of the study, Sylvain Papon and Isabelle Robert-Bobée.

The hike in deaths was also significant among the population born in Asia (INSEE’s definition here includes Turkey) – 91 per cent more than March-April 2019.

INSEE believes that the high death rates among the population born in Africa and Asia could be explained because most of them live densely populated areas across the country as well as Ile de France, a region worst hit by Covid-19.

A third of the population from the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia) live in Paris and its surrounding Ile de France region. It is also home to half of the population born in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

The stats show that, in the Seine-Saint-Denis district – scene of racial riots during lockdown – where death rates were among the highest in France, the rise for the sub-Saharan population reached 368 percent, as compared to 95 percent for the population born in France.

The study was the first in France to cross-reference deaths that occurred in March and April, when intensive care units were swamped with Covid-19 patients, with the regions of origin of the people who died.

It does not, however, take into consideration how the children of minority groups born in Africa and Asia fared during the health crisis, nor its undocumented population living in France.

Small flats 

Papon and Robert-Bobée wrote that the cramped accommodation where under-privileged minorities live constitutes an added factor for virus transmission and mortality.

The African and Asian population also widely use public transport to travel for work.

“People from Africa were most exposed to risks of infection because of their jobs,” the authors wrote.

They occupy essential jobs where they had to carry on working despite a nation-wide lockdown. From health workers to cleaners and food sellers, they are the invisible work force that proved to be essential during the health crisis.

The study also shows that men from sub-Saharan Africa were more affected than the women. Death rates among the under 65 age group were highest among the African communities when compared to Asian and French communities.

“Fatalities, among the under-65, were 30 times higher for the population from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia than it was for those born in France,” the authors wrote.

By highlighting dramatic increases in deaths among the population born in Africa and Asia, the research helps fill some of the gaps in France's understanding of its minority communities.

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