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‘Urgent action’ needed to protect BAME groups from COVID-19, scientists say

Disparities in the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities need urgent action, scientists have said.

The Independent SAGE group, set up to shadow the government’s official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, has drawn up a list of 11 recommendations it is urging Downing Street to act on.

Its review, which examined the disproportionate effects on the BAME community from COVID-19, has concluded that groups are at greater risk of dying from the disease because of a complex crossover between “socio-economic disadvantages, high prevalence of chronic diseases and the impact of long-standing racial inequalities”.

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Eight proposals are classed as “short-term” and can be implemented immediately to prevent further harm to minorities, especially in face of a second wave of coronavirus and further local lockdowns that could come into force.

It follows recommendations already produced by Public Health England, which were submitted to the government at the end of May and none of which have yet been implemented.

But Independent SAGE, which is made up of scientists and former scientific advisers to the government, have gone further with more detailed guidance aimed at protecting BAME people.

In light of the Leicester lockdown, the group are arguing that “temporary accommodation should be made available” for people who live in overcrowded and multi-generational households.

Outside London, Leicester has one of the largest South Asian populations in England and a significant number of overcrowded homes, which some believe has contributed to the rise in coronavirus cases in the area.

The group also want to see tailored test and trace systems as they are developed “to ensure that they reach marginalised BAME communities”, along with priority testing for the most at-risk groups, particularly those working in public-facing roles.

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The review from Independent SAGE also contains “broader long term recommendations” including tackling health inequality in deprived areas and within BAME communities, as well as tackling employment disparities, which were highlighted by the PHE review.

The recommendations in full:

  • Occupational risk assessments for all staff and PPE (personal protective equipment) provision for all workers in public facing roles
  • A tailored find, test, trace, isolate support (FTTIS) programme
  • Increase in social security safety net and remove barriers for migrants accessing essential benefits
  • Provide more housing (e.g hotels, BBs and community shelters) and emergency financial support for necessary isolation during COVID-19
  • Reverse NHS charges for all new migrants and all levels of workers in the NHS, and remove all-data sharing obligations between NHS and the Home Office
  • Mandatory data on ethnic background in all health and social care contexts
  • Undertake and publish all equality impact assessments on previous and new government measures in relation to COVID-19
  • NHS Trusts need to undertake an independent review of racial inequalities and discrimination in the NHS
  • Co-creating strategies and policies for primary prevention, secondary prevention and local outbreak control with BAME communities.
  • Tackle health inequality
  • Tackle employment inequality

A government spokesman said: “We know that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on people from BAME backgrounds and we are determined to take the right steps to protect them and minimise their risk.

“We have already implemented significant measures to protect communities and, following the findings of the Public Health England reports published this month, the equalities minister is now taking forward vital work to tackle these disparities and protect our most vulnerable communities from the impact of the virus.

“The prime minister has also announced a new cross-government commission to examine racial and ethnic disparities in the UK. The aim of the commission is to set out a new, positive agenda for change, balancing the needs of individuals, communities and society, maximising opportunities and ensuring fairness for all.”

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