Labour accuses government of cover-up over BAME Covid-19 report

Vital recommendations that could help protect people are missing from review, say MPs

Labour has accused the government of “covering up vital recommendations” that could help prevent black, Asian and minority ethnic people dying from coronavirus.

Concerns about censorship mounted this week after third-party submissions, which reportedly highlighted structural racism and social inequality, were left out of the government-commissioned report on the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on BAME people.

People of Bangladeshi heritage in England are twice as likely to die if they contract the virus than white people, while other BAME groups face an increased risk of up to 50%, the Public Health England (PHE) report found, after claims it was due to be delayed because of fears it could stoke racial tensions.

On Saturday the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, demanded the report be published in full. “We know BAME people are more likely to die from Covid and more likely to fall seriously ill with Covid,” he told Sky News. “This report needs to be published in full.

“Covering up vital recommendations is completely unacceptable. Action must be taken to protect those disproportionately at risk from this horrific virus.”

After the partial release of the report, PHE was criticised for simply restating the increased mortality highlighted by other research without explaining the reasons for the stark disparity or making recommendations to tackle it.

In a webinar on 22 May, Prof Kevin Fenton, the PHE regional director for London, who led the review, said the public health body had engaged almost 1,500 people as part of an “extensive exercise”, which included steps already being taken because “we shouldn’t be waiting to act when we know what to do”.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic MPs have warned a failure to tackle the disproportionate number of deaths of BAME people from coronavirus risks fuelling simmering tensions over racial injustice in Britain at a time of anti-racism protests following George Floyd’s murder in the US.

They said the absence of discussion about structural racism, as well as practical measures to protect BAME people, from the report made a mockery of the health secretary, Matt Hancock’s, statement in the Commons that “black lives matter”.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the MP for Streatham, said the fact the review overlooked factors arising from structural racism and wrongly focused on comorbidities including obesity and diabetes sent a message that “we don’t matter”.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the MP for Slough, who has lost three relatives to coronavirus, said: “It’s all very well saying black lives matter but if you’re not going to be taking any action to make sure that, yes, those lives do matter, then those are just hollow words.”

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) again refused to comment on whether a section of the report had been removed before its publication.

A government spokesperson said: “The government commissioned a review to analyse how different factors can impact on people’s health outcomes from Covid-19. This is what was published on Tuesday. 

“Prof Fenton has engaged with a significant number of individuals and organisations within the BAME community over the past couple of months, to hear their views, concerns and ideas about the impact of covid-19 on their communities.

“The valuable insight he has gathered so far is informing the work the equalities minister is now taking forward.”

PHE did not deny that a “qualitative assessment” with recommendations for the government was issued as part of the findings, Sky News reported. It has been approached for further comment.

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Mattha Busby

The GuardianTramp

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