Coronavirus does discriminate – a colourblind approach helps no one
We should mourn all who are taken away by this virus, but some groups are getting sicker than others.
Millions of white Brits become choleric when racial differentials are raised in national conversations. They do not want to know and, for years, have accused us of working profitably in the “race industry”. Here I go again.
They say the coronavirus does not discriminate between classes, ethnicities and races. Not so, writes London Mayor Sadiq Khan in a piece for The Guardian: “Covid-19 spares no one. Young, old, rich, poor, northerner, southerner – everyone is at risk of catching, spreading and potentially succumbing to the coronavirus. However, this doesn’t mean the impact of this crisis is being felt equally. More and more, the notion that this epidemic is some kind of ‘great leveller’ is being exposed for what it is – a complete myth.”
According to The New York Times, emerging research in the US reveals higher than average rates of infection and fatalities among black and Hispanic populations.
Here in the UK, people of colour are, in disproportionate numbers, catching the virus, needing intensive care and dying. Fourteen per cent of the population are of minority backgrounds. Only 5 per cent of those are over 65. Yet non-white people make up 34 per cent of critically ill Covid-19 patients and two-thirds of the first 100 health and social care workers who have died.
The first 10 doctors who perished were Asian, African and Arab. Remember their names: GP Fayaz Ayache; consultant urologist Abdul Mabud Chowdhury; consultant Alfa Saadu; GP Habib Zaidi; ENT surgeon Amged El-Hawrani; organ transplant specialist Adil El Tayar; cardiothoracic surgeon Jitendra Rathod; consultant geriatrician Anton Sebastianpillai; cancer specialist Mohamed Sami Shousha; and GP Syed Haider. Think about their grieving families and patients.
Public Health England has announced it will now track the ethnic disparities in cases and deaths. About time, too. But then what? Will the tracking lead to deeper investigations into causes? To more comprehensive data? To policy changes?
Various, knotted threads create susceptibility: work, economic disadvantage, environment, racial inequality, community precepts, life choices and genetics. Professor Kamlesh Khunti, of the University of Leicester, told the BBC that Bame populations tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, have public-facing occupations, different cultural beliefs and behaviours and are prone to some chronic health conditions.
Unless and until we understand the multiple and complex causes of this disparity, we understand nothing. And there’s the rub. For anti-racists, the external factors – inequality, racism, low pay, powerlessness – are the only valid determinants. Jingoists are offended by that and impugn the victims. To them it’s all about inherited deficiencies and unhealthy personal choices.
Here are some, incontrovertibly crucial factors: Britons of colour tend to live in big conurbations where the air is polluted and social distancing is harder. Large numbers of them do low-paid jobs and live in small flats or rooms. Around a third of Bangladeshi households and 15 per cent of black African households are officially classified as overcrowded. Only 2 per cent of white households are. Their nutrition can be poor. The millions working in public services are, according to Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, “more at risk of being at the front line and at greater risk of being exposed to the virus”. In addition, austerity hit these citizens cruelly.
Our immigration laws continue to discriminate against incomers, both legitimate and undocumented. One refugee charity has been in touch to express concern about clients who are banned from accessing healthcare. NHS workers from overseas have to pay a surcharge to be treated for illnesses. If they pass away, their families have no right to remain. I have no words to describe the injustices this nation heaps on men and women who travel thousands of miles and do their very best.
Of course, activism has its own blind alleys. Diabetes and hypertension, obesity and other diseases could be making Bame Britons more vulnerable to the virus. I didn’t know that darker skinned people need to have high-dose vitamin supplements because we don’t absorb it from the sun. Living in extended family groups – wonderful when it works – can spread the virus in the home.
I have talked to some older people who don’t speak good English and don’t understand the coronavirus rules. Salman Waqar, an academic GP registrar at the University of Oxford, confirms this: “These messages may not necessarily get through to the grass roots.” With Ramadhan coming soon, communities and the Government need to step up.
We should mourn all who are taken away by this stealthy and dark virus. But some groups are getting sicker than others and expiring in tragically high numbers. Colour blindness betrays them and endangers everybody else.
The full article can be found here: