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A public inquiry to examine the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities is urgently needed, campaigners have declared.
High-profile figures including author and journalist Gary Younge, MP Diane Abbott and Professor Azeem Majeed were among those who spoke out at an online meeting calling for an investigation similar to the inquiry following Stephen Lawrence’s death.
Anti-racist campaigners have also highlighted the hypocrisy of desperately needing migrant workers in the NHS, care homes and other sectors during the current crisis and the legislation preventing them from working when the disaster is over.
HuffPost UK revealed how people from BAME communities felt they were being “thrown to the wolves” with the government’s new back-to-work guidelines in an easing of lockdown measures.
The UK has one of the highest per capita death rates in the world for coronavirus and around 28 per cent of Covid-19 deaths were people from BAME communities.
Ethnic minority groups are at greater risk of dying from coronavirus than the white population, according to the latest analysis by the Office for National Statistics.
Black people are four times more likely to die from a coronavirus-related cause than white people with black men 4.2 times more likely and black women 4.3 times more likely.
The analysis also showed that Bangladeshi and Pakistani men were 1.8 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white men while women from those ethnic groups were 1.6 times more likely to die than white women.
Weyman Bennett, co-convener at Stand Up To Racism, told HuffPost UK that it is a mistake that the government has not taken the impact on BAME communities into account when considering things like the reopening of schools.
It is better to lose some of your education than to lose a parent or a grandparent.Weyman Bennett, Stand Up To Racism
“There has not been enough work done on the impact of ending lockdown on BAME communities.” he said.
“It is better to lose some of your education than to lose a parent or a grandparent.
“BAME frontline workers have paid the price for the heroic role they have been playing battling Covid-19.
“We need an inquiry to find out why so many people from BAME backgrounds have died as a result of coronavirus.
“We need this to find out the truth and also for those who lost their lives.”
The online meeting discussed the government’s Immigration Bill with the second reading back on the parliament agenda.
Bennett said many people are furious at the Tory plans that “will starve the NHS, care homes and other vital services of the migrant workers they so desperately need to operate successfully.”
He said: “The government’s failure to end NHS surcharges is a further insult. Migrants are still being forced to pay hundreds of pounds to access the very services they are fighting and dying to provide.
“It is a slap in the face to expect migrant workers to pay a visa surcharge for themselves and their families and to treat them as unskilled labour when they are critically needed.”
Bennett added that he is the “proud son” of a Windrush nurse and that she and her generation were treated “shabbily” – and says history is now repeating itself.
“My mother and her generation were treated shabbily and this is being repeated again now in the way those who are sacrificing their health and their lives working for frontline services and this is contributing to the hostile environment which should have ended with the Covid-19 crisis.
“Clearly, the issue of racism – whether the institutional racism that has contributed to such a disproportionate number of BAME people among the Covid deaths, or whether the operation of a deliberate ‘hostile environment’ – remains a central political issue and a factor which in many ways is in play during the current coronavirus crisis.
“Racism is a dangerous virus and we have to call it out and organise to oppose all forms of racism now.”
London bus driver Greesman Ranjith Chandrapala died of Covid-19 on May 3. His daughter Leshie Chandrapala expressed her concerns about the easing of lockdown forcing more people to use public transport and putting more drivers with inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) at risk.
Similarly, Oyinkansola Honey Iloba, the daughter of nurse Eyitolami Olaolorun who died of coronavirus on April 16, urged people to stick to the government’s previous “stay at home” message.
Diane Abbott MP said: “There is no denying that the coronavirus is hitting Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities hardest.
“The urgent question is why so that we can do something about it in time.
“There can be little confidence that this government will mount an inquiry which explores all the relevant factors or that it will bring the necessary sense of urgency. But we must insist on both.”
Bell Ribeiro Addy MP said: “We need to be clear about who will bear the brunt of the premature end to lockdown.
“Overwhelmingly, those being forced to put their health at risk and go back to work are in low-paid occupations, which are disproportionately done by BAME people.
“The decision therefore risks compounding already shocking inequalities in terms of Covid-19 health outcomes.
“The failure to end lockdown without a comprehensive package of measures in place to curtail the spread of the disease will only exacerbate this situation.”