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Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people with coronavirus should not be stigmatised, a shadow cabinet minister said ahead of the publication of postcode-level data on those who have tested positive.
Ministers are pushing ahead with the release of data despite councils’ concerns that the plan, originally revealed by HuffPost UK, could lead to people in certain neighbourhoods being stigmatised and damage community cohesion.
Lisa Nandy said that the country needs to have “a conversation” about how coronavirus is affecting BAME communities, amid suggestions that south Asian populations in places such as Leicester and Blackburn are bearing the brunt of new infections.
And she stressed that the “key thing” was “making the data available to those who need it”, including local public health directors.
But Nandy suggested the government could learn from South Korea’s approach, where after initial issues with social stigma those who self isolate are now hailed by the state as heroes.
The shadow foreign secretary also revealed that the local public health director for her Wigan constituency was against the kind of street-by-street lockdown measures proposed by some in light of postcode-level data.
She told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast: “What you absolutely cannot do is stigmatise people who test positive for Covid.
“They have to feel that they can be as forthcoming as possible with people who are trying to trace and that they’re not going to stigmatise other people – friends and family that they have been in contact with – so they share that information and so that, then, people are able to follow these guidelines without then feeling it’s going to have a negative impact on them.
“The South Koreans, who dealt with this very early on, that is the absolute number one lesson that they said came out of it.
“When they go in and do local lockdowns, they put out press releases saying these people are heroes, they are sacrificing for the national interest.
“My concern is that what we’re seeing in Britain is a very different approach when the government isn’t doing very much of that work and what we could end up with is a situation where people from Leicester or people from particular streets are being stigmatised for the fact they’ve got Covid and being punished for it.”
Nandy stressed that there is already evidence to show BAME people fare worse than others once they contract the virus, but they also may be at higher risk because they are more likely to work in frontline jobs where they are in contact with lots of other people.
She accused the government of being “very slow” to recognise the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME people, women and children who may suffer mental health problems in the wake of lockdown measures.
“There is definitely a conversation that we need to have, that we’ve been trying to have in the Labour party,” she said.
“We’ve asked Doreen Lawrence to lead a piece of work looking at the different impact for BAME communities of Covid.
“From a local perspective... there’s definitely an issue, it feels like there’s an issue about predisposition to Covid.
“The scientific evidence that we do have out there shows that BAME groups are certainly much more impacted when they get it, if not more likely to get it, so that’s a problem.
“There’s also an economic element to go alongside the racial aspect of this as well.
“If you are more likely to be working on the frontline on trains, the buses, in a care home, it’s often frontline and fairly low-paid work that people in BAME communities end up doing because frankly we’ve got structural discrimination in this country.
“There are huge issues around that just need to be properly explored.”