“If we had known from the outset that BAME people were more at risk from Covid-19, perhaps the public health messaging might have been different.”by Jason Murugesu / June 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
“I think we lost several weeks,” Dr Manish Pareek, a clinician at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, tells me. “If we had known from the outset that BAME people were more at risk from Covid-19, perhaps the public health messaging might have been different.”
Months into the lockdown, it is now clear that ethnic minorities in Britain are more likely to die from Covid-19. Approximately 94 per cent of the doctors in Britain who have died from the illness were BAME, as were 60 per cent of the healthcare workers. And while only 14 percent of England are non-white, they made up about a third of all Covid-19 patients in intensive care during April. As unprecedented as the pandemic was, we could have been better prepared—and one crucial measure has to do with how England and Wales records its death certificates (Scotland became the first UK country—and one of the first in the world—to do so in 2012.)
When the first few people in Leicester started dying from Covid-19 in early March, doctors filled out a short form to keep track of deaths. Only a page long, the form asked for some certain facts like the name, age and address of the deceased. “But it didn’t ask for the person’s ethnicity,” says Pareek. “We didn’t have real time information,” he continued. “I believe London was about three weeks ahead of us in terms of the pandemic. If they could have told us that we’re seeing young Asians and Africans coming in quite sick—we might have monitored them a bit more closely.”
But Pareek says this goes beyond what happens in the hospital. “The public messaging so far has been very unidimensional,” he says: “If you consider the fact that there are different members of society who have different risks, why wouldn’t you try and target them differently?” “If I’m Asian and a bus driver in my sixties—perhaps this would have made me be more circumspect about my job at the beginning,” Pareek tells me.