If white people faced the same risks from coronavirus as black people, 58,000 more would have died during the first wave of the pandemic, research has revealed.
Coronavirus death rates are 3.3 times higher in black men and 2.4 times higher in black women than their white peers, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Runnymede Trust.
Reasons for higher death rates in BAME communities have often been put down to a higher prevalence for underlying health conditions, but the report said they are more at risk of serious complications from coronavirus due to social inequalities.
The think tanks called for urgent action to better protect ethnic minority communities amid a second peak, warning that the racial inequalities laid bare by the pandemic are ‘a stain on our claim to be a civilised society’.
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Among their suggestions, they said ethnicity should be considered as an independent risk factor when deciding priority for limited Covid testing, and that temporary accommodation should must be supplied for people who need to self-isolate but cannot do so due to their living conditions.
Lead author of the paper and IPPR research fellow, Dr Parth Patel, said: ‘We are now experiencing the second wave of this dangerous virus, and once again it is running along racist grooves.
Recommendations to improve the unequal impacts of coronavirus:
• Include ethnicity as an independent risk when deciding priority for limited testing
• Offer temporary accommodation to all people who need to isolate but cannot because of their living conditions
• Ensure that isolation pay support, worth £500 to low-paid workers, is available to all, including people without immigration status and the 1.4 million whose visas currently allow them no recourse to public funds
• Stop charging patients to use the NHS during this crisis
• Send clearer and better targeted messaging to encourage all vulnerable populations to seek healthcare
• Introduce emergency health protection funding for local authorities this winter
‘Our new research puts into context how stark the inequalities are. Addressing them is a matter of racial justice, but also a matter of public health – inequalities fuel pandemics.’
The study found that the stark difference in Covid-19 deaths across different ethnic communities was not explained by underlying health conditions, such as lung disease, obesity and diabetes.
For the black population, such illnesses account for only 5% of their increased risk of dying from the virus, while deprivation is just 14%, and 9% in South Asian communities.
The paper said mere ‘genetics cannot explain why every minority group has a higher risk of death’ from coronavirus because of ‘the wide genetic diversity’.
It concludes that ‘the main factors are most likely to be unequal social conditions (such as occupation and housing), unequal access to healthcare, and the structural and institutional racism that underpins them.’
The most ethnically diverse local authorities have also suffered more from healthcare cuts in recent years, as their budgets were slashed by £15 million more than the least diverse local authorities since 2014 and 2015.
This explains why black patients with coronavirus are likely to be acutely ill by the time they first see a doctor in A&E, and are 55% more likely to need resuscitation and more than twice as likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit directly from A&E.
The think tanks also found public health communication is an area of concern, as people from BAME communities were 18% less likely to be aware of any ‘stay at home’ messages.
Dr Patel said: ‘Many months after the unequal impacts first began to emerge, little or nothing is being done to address them.
‘We cannot eliminate all the effects of structural and institutional racism overnight.
‘But we can and should take practical steps now to better protect minority ethnic communities, to support people to self-isolate and to ensure healthcare access is less unequal in the dangerous winter months that lie ahead.’
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