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Government accused of ‘colour blind approach’ after review of BAME virus deaths

Campaigners said the Government must take urgent action to reduce Covid-19 risks to BAME people.

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A Windrush campaigner has accused the Government of taking a “colour blind approach” in tackling Covid-19 after a review found black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are more likely to die from the virus.

Patrick Vernon, a former Hackney Labour councillor, said a public inquiry needed to be launched to fully assess the impact of coronavirus on BAME communities.

It comes after a review by Public Health England (PHE) found people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death as people of white British ethnicity, while people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and black ethnicity had between a 10% and 50% higher risk of death.

Mr Vernon told the PA news agency: “What we need now is a public inquiry with evidence from frontline staff, families and experts to give context to the data.”

He said the PHE review highlighted the contribution made by BAME people in UK society as he pointed to the large number of deaths among frontline workers who were from those communities.

To help bereaved families who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, Mr Vernon launched a fundraising page on GoFundMe to provide grants for memorial events, which has so far raised more than £20,000.

Mr Vernon accused the Government of failing to undertake a “proper impact assessment” into how Covid-19 affected BAME groups, saying this was also the case when looking at the impact on care homes.

“The report highlights that BAME lives matter, and the Government should no longer take the colour blind approach any more,” he said.

“At the beginning of the pandemic they said coronavirus does not discriminate, but the impact of it does discriminate – they didn’t look at the risks that it posed on BAME people.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the council of the British Medical Association, said the review was a “missed opportunity”.

In a statement, he said: “It is a statistical analysis, which while important, gets us no closer towards taking action that avoids harm to BAME communities.

“The BMA and the wider community were hoping for a clear action plan to tackle the issues, not a reiteration of what we already know. We need practical guidance, particularly in relation to how healthcare workers and others working in public-facing roles will be protected.”

Freedom From Torture, which supports asylum seekers and refugees, is among 50 charities and organisations to sign a letter calling on the Government to take urgent action to reduce the risks to BAME groups.

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of the charity, said: “Today’s Public Health England report confirms the lethal risks to BAME people from Covid-19. An independent public inquiry is essential.”

The PHE report said the “relationship between ethnicity and health is complex and likely to be the result of a combination of factors”.

For example, BAME people are likely to be at increased risk of acquiring the infection due to the fact they are more likely to live in urban areas, in overcrowded households, in deprived areas, and have jobs that expose them to higher risk, the study said.

The review was launched last month to analyse how factors such as ethnicity can impact health outcomes from Covid-19.

Some claim the report did not go far enough in explaining why BAME people are disproportionately affected.

Dr Saffron Karlsen, senior lecturer in social research at the University of Bristol, said: “The reasons for these poor living conditions, higher-risk jobs and co-morbidities are not explained.

“We are not told about the wealth of evidence documenting the ways in which those with minority ethnicities are persistently excluded from the education, employment and other opportunities which will enable them to attain good jobs or decent housing.”

Rehana Azam, national secretary of the GMB union, said: “In the context of global events, with the spotlight on structural and institutional racism, the publication of this report which carries no recommendations is just going to heighten distrust of the claim that all lives matter to the Government.

“They say that this virus doesn’t discriminate, but the response to this virus and the lives it has taken most definitely experienced a discrimination that ended in their deaths.”

Publishing the review, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that “black lives matter”, a slogan which has dominated headlines in recent weeks as protests continue in the US and around the world following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Mr Hancock said: “Black lives matter, as do those of the poorest areas of our country which have worse health outcomes, and we need to make sure all of these considerations are taken into account, and action is taken to level up the health outcomes of people across this country.”

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