Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021

Coronavirus: Health secretary pledges action on BAME COVID-19 deaths

“Much more work needs to be done” to understand the impact of the coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, a minister has admitted.

Speaking at the daily COVID-19 briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he had been “really struck” by the “clear difference” in the proportion of people dying with coronavirus who are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

“I totally understand the concerns that people have and I understand the anger that people feel about racial injustice more broadly,” he said, declaring: “Black lives matter.”

The health secretary added: “I share it [the anger] and we want to tackle it. I fully acknowledge that and it is very very important that we address that.”

Mr Hancock was speaking after the release of a report from Public Health England which said that BAME individuals are up to twice as likely to die with the virus than those from a white British background.

The report showed that, after accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region, people of Bangladeshi ethnicity were found to have around twice the risk of death.

Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black ethnicities had between a 10% and 50% greater risk of dying.

The highest diagnosis rate per 100,000 population was in black ethnic groups (486 in females and 649 in males) and the lowest in white ethnic groups (220 in females and 224 in males).

The health secretary said “there’s much more work that needs to be done and this report shows that”.

Mr Hancock said equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has been asked to carry out further work on the issue in response to the PHE report.

He added that the government would be looking at “what is driving these disparities and how the different risk factors interact” with ethnicity – such as age, gender and occupation – and what more could be done.

Mr Hancock said the link between ethnicity and the occupations that people do “is an important part of this conundrum”, adding that more work was needed to find out what factors there were “over and above” the impact of being in frontline jobs and living in urban areas.

Ministers have been criticised for failing to offer specific recommendations for BAME communities to help protect themselves.

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