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Covid-19: Disproportionate BAME deaths demands a substantive inquiry

22nd May 2020
Covid-19: Disproportionate BAME deaths demands a substantive inquiry

So many mysteries remain about the deadly Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world in the past few months, so far killing well-over 300,000 people, including tens of thousands in the UK.

What is known is that Britain’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are among those most likely to die of the Coronavirus, even after making allowances for health factors and deprivation. The phenomenon has led to calls for a public inquiry while several urgent reviews are also being carried out.

One of the first Government reviews is to be led by Public Health England (PHE), details of which were only formally announced when the Editor of this paper raised questions about it during Downing Street’s Daily Covid-19 Briefings (see page 4).

Only then, was it revealed that the review will not be explicitly focusing on the disproportionately high deaths in BAME populations, instead it will generally analyse health record data impacting the outcomes of the pandemic.

Deliberately or not, broadly generalising its terms of reference can only result in ambiguous findings.

What has been of particular concern is the PHE’s peculiar decision to confer discredited Trevor Phillips and his company Webber Phillips a prominent research role in the review – his name was singled out in the announcement.

His appointment bewilders not only Muslims but many BAME doctors, activists and institutions, given his current suspension from the Labour Party for alleged Islamophobic remarks. His unfitness for a review role was highlighted yet more in his prejudice-ridden analysis in The Times on the Covid-19 deaths of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

In it, the former EHRC chair incorrectly claims that the death rates for Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslim communities were not significantly higher than the general population and alleged that this could be due to the ritual of pre-prayer ablutions (washing).

However, recent and past research shows that Covid-19 death rates were considerably higher in these communities than in the general population. He also denied structural issues that have led to a large number of their deaths. “It was not biological nor is it anything at least to do with poverty or overcrowding,” he told Sky News on April 24.

Brief papers published on his consultancy website also laid bare Phillips skewed view.

On the need to solve the ‘ethnic puzzle of Covid-19’, he throws out the proposition, ‘does religion offer an answer?’ It is here that he rather flippantly and mischievously brings up the issue of whether Muslims hold the key to stopping the spread of the virus with their regular ablutions.

BAME communities, including many Muslims, have been in the frontline combating the pandemic, be it in healthcare or auxiliary staff or drivers keeping public transport going. The startling figures are scattered all over this edition.

If it wasn’t known before, it is factually known now; minorities are (disproportionately) leading the fight against the deadly virus.

It is heartening to see many others join The Muslim News in raising awareness and demanding a substantive inquiry on the country’s systematic inequalities, responsible in large part for the high BAME death rates.

We know, for example, that BAME people are more likely to be living in overcrowded accommodation, less likely to have access to good healthcare, and more likely to be trapped in low-paid, high-risk jobs. BAME people have also been disproportionately affected by a decade of austerity and cuts to public services.

Labour, the Mayor of London, the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, campaigners of various persuasions as well as trade unions, have all joined the call for answers.

The response by the Johnson Government has been what many describe as a dog’s dinner. It has been chaotic, badly organised and very messy. Ministers were exposed as totally unprepared, even reluctant, to act. Frontline services were grossly underfunded after a decade of austerity measures.

Vital time was lost as the Prime Minister dithered; at one point even flirting with the callous policy of herd immunity aka genocidal culling of whole sections of society. As a result, there have been tens of thousands of excessive and unnecessary deaths.

Whether the Government has been criminally negligent and grossly incompetent is a matter for the future, though the writing is on the wall.

In all the turmoil, BAME frontline workers, amongst them, a significant number of Muslims, rose to the challenge, but with little in the way protection, many of them echoed a sense of feeling like ‘lambs being led to slaughter.’

But for everyone who has been so needlessly lost there needs to be a thorough and impartial investigation to establish why.

The result, as in other consequences could lead to a reprioritizing of society for the better, an overhaul that rewards those who are really important.

It may not be because of their supposed “proximity to illegal immigrants,” as Phillips so vindictively has proposed, but more because of their willingness to put their lives on the line for others without any protection from the Government.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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