‘Let’s support one another’: Islington health champion urges vigilance to avoid winter of rising Covid deaths

Health and community champion Oliur Rahman. Photograph: courtesy Oliur Rahman

An Islington health champion has urged people to stay Covid-vigilant to avoid a winter of rising cases and the possibility of being plunged into another lockdown like some countries in central Europe.

Oliur Rahman is one of an army of Islington health champions who are helping to support residents in the battle against the virus.

They get training and meet regualarly online to give people accurate information about looking after their health as knowledge about the virus increases.

Sadly, 394 people have died in Islington since the pandemic started, according to the latest figures on 11 November.

Rahman spoke of his sadness of Covid’s impact and said: “We need to be supportive of each other at this difficult time.”

He added: “The rate of infection is very high. We have seen some European countries go into lockdown. We need to be careful for our children, who have lost their time in this pandemic.”

The roll-out of the vaccine is “contributing to significantly lower levels of hospitals admissions and deaths in Islington compared with the first and second waves in 2020 and early 2021”, according to Islington Council.

The vaccine is being offered to adults and in single doses to children aged 12-15.

Unvaccinated people are at a higher risk of needing hospital treatment.  According to recent figures, there were 88 Covid admissions at the Royal Free, University of London  College Hospital and the Whittington, which all serve Islington, in the week ending 7 November.

Currently, infection rates are higher in the 5-19 age bracket and most cases are in people of working age – mainly under-40s.

Rahman said people need to continue to keep their distance, use hand sanitiser, get vaccinated and wear face masks.

Winter chills mean people may feel less keen to meet outside or open windows to improve ventilation, both of which cut the risk of Covid.

Rahman handing out face masks. Photograph: courtesy Oliur Rahman

Rahman said people need to enjoy their lives as they prepare for the festive season but think about avoiding crowded places, such as busy times at shopping centres.

At the start of the pandemic he gave out face masks, gloves and hand sanitiser to people in Islington and recalled that “people laughed at me”.

Later, those protective measures became a way of life as people realised the seriousness of the virus.

More and more people are not wearing face coverings in public places and public transport, but they can help prevent transmission of covid.

Rahman said: “[The powers that be] should be more strict about it.”

The 45-year-old works on reception at some of west London’s biggest hospitals, and said there are strict rules there on wearing face masks.

“I am still distributing masks in the community,” he added.

His comments, though not directed at Boris Johnson, came as the prime minister found himself under fire for reportedly only partially wearing a face covering at Islington’s Almeida Theatre, which advises audience members to don them.

Rahman moved to the UK from Bangladesh and said the Bangladeshi community was hit hard and lost community leaders to the pandemic.

The father-of-two lives in the Caledonian Road area and has been involved as a community champion for several years.

He has been working to help Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the virus, get the vaccine.

An analysis of Covid deaths up to August found they were 1.7 times higher overall among people from Asian communities and 1.5 times higher among Black communities compared with the average.

Rahman said the vaccine was one of the best weapons to combat the virus.

First doses of the vaccine had been given to 159,184 people from Islington’s eligible population – 143,012 for second jabs – by 24 November.

The national target is to have 95 per cent of the population vaccinated.

By 7 November, 64 per cent of the population had had one dose of the vaccine and 58 per cent had had two doses.

There were variations between different groups, with 68 per cent of the borough’s Bangladeshi population, 51 per cent of African residents, 46 per cent of Caribbean people, and 40 per cent of Chinese residents having had the first vaccine.

Take-up has also varied across wards, with 70 per cent of people in Highbury East jabbed once by 12 November, compared to 56 per cent in Clerkenwell.

Rahman said word-of-mouth is crucial and urged people to encourage their friends to get the vaccine to help save lives.

He said there is a language barrier for some and people may not know where to get the vaccine.

“Some people are shy,” he added.

He has taken calls from people who are anxious about getting the vaccine or any possible side effects and said he advises them not to be scared.

“It is not a scary thing, it will protect your life,” he said.

“People should think very seriously about the advice. We need to support each other and we need to stand side by side.”

He has been involved in sharing information about the virus and has made videos in several languages spoken by Bangladeshi residents to help counter myths and address their concerns.

He has also been handing out leaflets to get the message out.

He also praised moves like the mass vaccine events at Arsenal stadium, saying: “It was a brilliant idea. I have requested they organise this again.”

Details about the vaccine centres at King Square Community Centre on Pankhurst Terrace and West Library on Bridgeman Road, pharmacies offering the jab, as well as walk-in options, are available here. People can also visit for advice with no obligation to get the jab.

Covid vaccinations | Islington Council