UK report: Racism means minorities harder hit by virus

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LONDON (AP) — A new study by Public Health England has confirmed that historic racism and social inequalities are contributing factors that increase the risk of black, Asian and minority communities contracting and dying from the coronavirus in the U.K.

Britain’s government has been under heavy pressure to do more to directly address the issue after data consistently showed that coronavirus death rates were significantly higher for blacks and ethnic minorities compared to white people.

The report, published Tuesday, didn’t look at genetic factors, but said it was clear that the pandemic “exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequalities” in the country. Relevant factors included “racism, discrimination and stigma, occupational risk, inequalities in the prevalence of conditions that increase the severity of disease including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma.’’

Citing a strong association between economic disadvantage and COVID-19 diagnoses, it said black people and minority groups are more at risk because they are more likely to live in cramped housing, use public transportation and work in jobs with a higher risk of virus exposure.

It added that historic racism and poorer experiences of health care or at work meant that minority groups are less likely to seek care, or demand better protective equipment at work.

“Lack of trust of NHS (National Health Service) and healthcare treatment resulted in their reluctance to seek care on a timely basis, and late presentation with disease,” the paper said.

The report said officials should start more comprehensive collection of ethnicity health data and ensure ethnicity is recorded in death certificates. It also recommended targeted messaging on smoking, obesity and improving management of common health conditions like diabetes.

The report’s release has been controversial. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of holding back the material when it published an earlier report on the issue.

The first report looked at why black people and ethnic communities may be at higher risk from COVID-19, but made no recommendations and made no reference to the 17 sessions in which around 4,000 people offered insight on the issue.

Tuesday’s report said that those consulted “expressed deep dismay, anger, loss and fear in their communities about the emerging data and realities of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups being harder hit by the COVID-19 pandemic than others.”

Amitava Banerjee, associate professor in clinical data science at University College London, said that overall the disproportionate impact on minorities is “due not only to racism, but much more to do with ethnic inequalities in the social and economic determinants of health, which require urgent action.”

On Monday, Johnson announced a commission to look at what more can be done to fight racial inequality in the U.K. Thousands protested across the country for two weekends in demonstrations spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

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