Scientists should lead review into impact of Covid-19 on minorities


We need top-notch scientists to carry out such inquiries, not race campaigners. Also worth noting is that the Muslim Council of Britain has objected to Sir Trevor Phillips being asked to give “expert sup­port” to Public Health England (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images).
We need top-notch scientists to carry out such inquiries, not race campaigners. Also worth noting is that the Muslim Council of Britain has objected to Sir Trevor Phillips being asked to give “expert sup­port” to Public Health England (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images).

By Amit Roy

THE Labour party announced last week that Sir Keir Starmer had “appointed campaigner and Labour peer Doreen Lawrence to the post of race relations adviser and tasked her with leading a review into the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities”.

The whole nation has the highest regard and sympathy for Baroness Lawrence, whose 19-year-old son, Stephen, was knifed to death by racist thugs on April 22, 1993.

However, her appointment is baffling. What conclusion can she reach other than that black and Asian deaths from coronavirus have been caused by an institutionally racist government and an uncaring NHS leadership? Perhaps implying on Starmer’s behalf that all would be well if the ethnic minorities – In­dians especially – voted in a Labour government next time round?

What I must stress is that none of this is a personal criticism of Do­reen Lawrence, a dignified mother who has suffered enough.

Starmer’s plus point is that he is not Jeremy Corbyn. He has won plaudits by making it clear that he does not want to play party politics during a national emergency, and that he will engage constructively with the government. But as a poli­tician who wants to be prime minis­ter, he is bound to say, sooner or later, that Boris Johnson is not fit to be returned to power because he handled the pandemic so poorly.

Baroness Lawrence has already put a socio-economic construction on the causes behind the deaths: “Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have long been disad­vantaged by the social and eco­nomic injustice which still exists in our country. There is a clear and tragic pattern emerging of the im­pact on those communities which must be better understood.”

It is not entirely clear why Starm­er wants a separate inquiry when Public Health England and the NHS are already conducting an investi­gation into the same issue, unless he wants ammunition to use against the government.

The Labour leader said: “It is ex­tremely concerning to see the dis­proportionate toll coronavirus is taking on our BAME communities. We cannot afford to treat this as an issue to investigate once the crisis is over. We must address it now.”

What is needed is a government educational campaign tailored to the needs of the ethnic minorities.

It is a mistake to lump all the ethnic minorities into one basket. The reason why an Indian busi­nessman in Harrow or Wembley is vulnerable to infection is very dif­ferent from the one facing a black bus driver, example.

This was pointed out by a con­sultant psychiatrist in Bristol, Anish Patel, who said that although “the statistical evidence is certainly dis­turbing”, it would be a mistake to lump all ethnic minorities together.

By inference, he dealt with the fact that Indians, for example, do not form part of the deprived com­munities whom the Labour party is keen to represent against an alleg­edly racist government.

Patel pointed out that “even the term BAME is an umbrella category that, for the purposes of data analy­sis, unsatisfactorily binds together a very disparate and heterogeneous group. For example, a refugee from Myanmar, a new immigrant from Ghana and a third-generation Brit­ish citizen from Bangladesh could all be said to be of BAME back­ground. Yet in health terms, they probably have nothing in common. And in socio-economic terms, they are also likely to have very different life experiences.”

He said: “Looking forward, it will be highly instructive to observe how the pandemic has advanced through India and the Caribbean, and compare the data to that of our cities with high proportions of im­migrant communities.”

Patel seemed to make a very per­tinent point about Indians when he added: “Asian households may con­tain three or even four generations of one family, which increases the risk of inter-generational infection and is especially dangerous for el­derly relatives.”

We need top-notch scientists to carry out such inquiries, not race campaigners. Also worth noting is that the Muslim Council of Britain has objected to Sir Trevor Phillips being asked to give “expert sup­port” to Public Health England.

Meanwhile, concern – outrage even – has been expressed about the presence of Johnson’s political hatchet man, Dominic Cummings, at meetings of SAGE, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emer­gencies. This is seen to have under­mined SAGE’s independence.

A government campaign aimed specifically at Asians is the need of the hour. By and large, poverty is not a problem among Indians. They need to be told not only about hand washing but that the risks are great­er for those with diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney prob­lems. They also need to be made aware of the risk of infection in joint or extended family relationships.