The government has been accused of failing to carry out key recommendations to protect Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities from Covid-19 as fears mount over the second wave.
The first indication that people from these groups were disproportionately dying from coronavirus was published almost six months ago, yet critics say little has been done to reduce the risk despite two reports outlining actions that could be taken.
Ministers are being urged to act now to protect the vulnerable communities.
At the moment, a third of coronavirus patients in intensive care are from BAME backgrounds and on Monday, chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance warned there could be 50,000 daily cases of Covid-19 by mid-October and 200 deaths a day by mid-November if the current rate of infection is not halted.
Labour MP Marsha de Cordova MP, shadow women and equalities secretary, slammed the government for “failing” to safeguard BAME groups.
“This government has failed to act to protect Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities since this health crisis began six months ago. During that time we have seen copious amounts of evidence and recommendations, all of which point towards clear actions that the government must take,” she told HuffPost UK.
“The latest evidence suggests that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are still disproportionately impacted by the virus but the government is still not doing enough and must instigate an action plan immediately.”
A report in April by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) revealed that a third of coronavirus patients were Black or Asian, despite those groups making up only 13% of the UK population.
Further analysis by Public Health England (PHE) in June confirmed that the ethnic minority population was more likely to contract the virus than others.
After the initial PHE report was slammed for failing to publish any recommendations to address the increased risk, equalities minister Kemi Badenoch was handed the responsibility of examining “what further could be done”.
Following public pressure, a subsequent PHE report was then published containing a series of recommendations including comprehensive ethnicity data collection – including on death certificates – and the involvement of BAME communities in research to help better understand cultural, structural, economic, religious and commercial factors behind Covid-19.
The government said that it “continues” to take action on tackling the disparities.
A spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The government continues to take action to address the disparities that exist across society, including implementing the recommendations from reviews that we have agreed to take forward.
“The minister for equalities will provide her first quarterly update in the coming weeks, outlining the specific work that has been done to advance the recommendations within the PHE review.”
The government did not confirm a date for the update when asked.
Advisory group Independent Sage also published a report in July outlining recommendations.
Member Dr Zubaida Haque, who is also the former interim director of race equality think tank Runnymede Trust, said the government “must take” specific actions made in the report to prevent further deaths in BAME communities.
They include a tailored find, test, trace, isolate, support (FTTIS) programme, improved statutory sick pay and the removal of barriers for migrants accessing essential benefits.
“We have known from the outset that this pandemic does not affect all groups equally, and that Black and ethnic minority communities are disproportionately vulnerable to Covid-19,” Haque told HuffPost UK.
“And yet, there is little evidence that the government has taken measures to reduce the risk – and importantly reduce the number of deaths of people from Black and Asian backgrounds.
“The only thing we see is a government prioritising politics before lives, shifting the blame for the spike in Covid-19 cases to the public, and doing very little to prevent further deaths in this pandemic.”
Research grants of £4.3m have been given out by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body of the government, to better understand the reasons behind the disproportionate outcomes.
However, while other ethnicities are represented among the researchers awarded with the funding, not one of the academics leading the projects is Black. Research published in May showed that Black people were more than four times more likely to die of Covid-19 than their white counterparts – the largest disparity of any ethnic minority.
HuffPost UK has asked UKRI why this is the case.
The government spokesperson also said “significant effort” has been made to ensure that public health messaging reaches everyone (including those who speak little or no English) and national campaigns have been translated into several languages by local authorities.
But members of the public have suggested that this has not been happening. For example, doctors have been forced to translate coronavirus guidance to stop minority lives being endangered.
The government also said it had worked closely with social influencers, religious leaders, and partnered with key community groups and organisations to ensure effective messaging, while conducting “targeted partnership” advertising with BAME media titles.
Following the prime minister’s announcement of new Covid restrictions on Tuesday, a number of MPs raised concerns in parliament about the BAME population’s safety at this time.
Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, Munira Wilson, asked: “Could he [Boris Johnson] tell the house how he thinks shutting pubs an hour earlier will address this worrying trend? And what action has his government taken to tackle the disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities since PHE published its report in June?”.
Boris Johnson responded by saying the government is offering more testing for frontline staff, many of whom are BAME, and health messages are being circulated more widely.
Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich, echoed this question and added that nothing has been done.
In response, Boris Johnson reiterated his earlier point.
Dr. Halima Begum, the new director of Runnymede Trust, told HuffPost UK: “Covid-19 isn’t racist but it does discriminate. The government stands in paralysis and fails to implement key recommendations – from the PHE report and Independent SAGE’s own set of recommendations – to protect people from within BAME communities.
“It is Runnymede’s view that the government could do more to protect BAME communities who face a heightened risk of contracting Covid-19 at this time. We urge the government to implement a National Cross Governmental Strategy for actions on social determinants of health injustices as recommended in the Marmot Review – which means taking action to improving prevention, access to health services, and treatment for long term conditions among black and minority ethnic communities.
“The impact of recent local lockdowns and rhetoric, in terms of increasing stigma on BAME communities during Covid-19, is hurting our communities and we call on the home secretary to outline plans to tackle that.”