The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a devastating year which has touched every corner of our lives and the consequences have been felt deeply in Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities who have been disproportionately affected by the virus.
Recent analysis by my team at PHE London has revealed that sadly ethnicity continues to be a major factor in the health outcomes of communities during the second wave of the pandemic. Deprivation is also a key factor.
Case rate and mortality data shows London’s Asian populations have been worst affected during the second wave to date, followed by Black communities. In a similar pattern to the first wave, both Asian and Black communities continue to experience significantly higher case rates and deaths than their White peers, bringing sadness and loss to many Londoners and their communities.
The data also shows the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases have been consistently observed in more deprived areas during the second wave.
These findings emphasise the importance of the work being undertaken by the wider public health system to tackle the issues faced by Londoners from the worst affected communities and areas. Individuals can also help by taking up the vaccine when eligible, getting tested and seeking treatment early if they develop COVID-19 and their symptoms worsen.
Our previous ‘Beyond the Data’ report published in 2020, looked at impacts on BAME communities during the first wave and the stakeholders we spoke to pointed to a range of longstanding inequalities and socioeconomic factors which may be leading to poorer outcomes from COVID-19 among these populations. The ONS has also since concluded that a large proportion of the difference in the risk of COVID-19 mortality between ethnic groups can be explained by demographic, geographical and socioeconomic factors, such as where you live or the occupation you’re in.
These are deeply rooted issues and change will not happen overnight so, as we continue the long road to addressing health inequalities, it is important that people from London’s worst affected communities are well supported by us in public health and our partners in the wider system. Much has been achieved in London in terms of scaling up community testing, key worker testing, local contact tracing, helping staff in the transport network to be as safe as possible, as well as the incredible efforts from the Boroughs to help vulnerable people and those who need to self-isolate. I am regularly speaking to faith leaders and community forums across London about vaccine hesitancy and how we can engage people in a culturally competent way. National government is also keenly focused on the issue.
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While our findings emphasise the importance of wider ongoing work to tackle inequalities during this pandemic, individuals also of have a vital role to play in protecting themselves. There are a range of things that people can do to reduce their chances of both catching the virus and falling seriously unwell.
The pandemic has been challenging on so many levels for communities who are dealing with not only the immediate impacts of COVID-19, but also wider consequences such as worsening physical and mental health, social disruption and economic anxiety.
I know that because BAME communities have been and continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, that this has caused a sense of despair, sadness and anger, which I have heard first hand. For some, this may also cause them to disengage from the epidemic and become hesitant to having the vaccine and we must listen to and address these concerns.
However, the power rests within our hands to work together to tackle these inequalities – whether in protecting ourselves, reducing transmission by following the rules, or taking up the vaccine when it is offered to us. These actions will help ensure that this unequal toll on our communities is challenged, allowing all of us to take back some control of our lives, protecting our health and that of our loved ones, and starting the journey to life beyond this disease.