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BAME people must be protected when lockdown ends

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My Sri Lankan parents are both over 60, and my dad has been going into work during lockdown as a key worker (Picture: Ella Byworth)

Like most Brits, if not most of the world, I am looking forward to the day when I’ll be reunited with my friends and relatives at the pub or over a roast dinner without any social distancing cares in the world. 

After weeks of lockdown, it would be fair to say that many of us are reaching the end of our tether, and thinking wistfully of a time when the coronavirus crisis is over and we can go back to our ‘normal’ everyday lives. 

But recent statistics reveal that people from ethnic minorities have a significantly higher risk of dying from the killer virus. Black Brits are four times as likely to die from coronavirus as white people, while those of Asian heritage also face a much higher risk – including the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities who are nearly twice as likely.

At the beginning of lockdown, I took comfort in the phrase ‘coronavirus does not discriminate’ but these words no longer ring true. And while the prime minister’s decision to ease lockdown measures undoubtedly came as good news for many, I’m finding it difficult to reconcile that excitement with the anxiety I feel for the health and safety of my family. 

My Sri Lankan parents are both over 60, and my dad has been going into work during lockdown as a key worker.

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We live in Harrow, a borough with one of the highest coronavirus-related death rates (and high populations of BAME people) and we’re not far from Northwick Park, the hospital that had to declare a ‘critical incident’ following a surge in patients with coronavirus.

It’s so scary to think about their vulnerability, especially with a parent travelling to and from work. If one or both of them did catch the virus, I worry about their ability to recover.

My concerns are only heightened by the lack of clarity in the government’s statements about lockdown ending.

For instance, the Government confirmed that Brits can meet with one non-family member while remaining two metres apart outside – but Foreign Minister Dominic Raab caused confusion after seemingly changing this lockdown advice three times within an hour.

I am fortunate enough to already be isolating with both my parents but now I feel torn: Can I socialise without putting them in danger?

Many of my BAME friends are far more anxious about their parents than they are for themselves. As a family we talk about how worrying it is, which has made us even more willing to obey lockdown rules.

There’s not much we can do but carry on as we have done so far, keeping calm and trying to understand. Yet it feels like starting late in a race where everybody else has a head-start – if not more of a fighting chance.

Ending lockdown without additional thought about how BAME communities will be affected won’t be fair to the NHS, or to the memories and friends and relatives of those who have already lost their lives

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has suggested that the reason ethnic minorities are at greater risk is because these groups may be ‘over-represented in public-facing occupations’ such as teaching, healthcare and transport – making it more likely for them to get infected while at work during the pandemic. 

Though this is still being looked into, it offers one perspective for why a larger proportion of NHS staff from ethnic backgrounds have died. According to a study carried out in April of 119 NHS workers known to have died during the coronavirus outbreak, 63 per cent were from an ethnic minority background – only approximately 20 per cent of NHS staff are from an ethnic minority background.

The devastating death of Belly Mujinga, a BAME railway ticket office worker who died from coronavirus after allegedly being spat on at work, really hammered this message home to me.

The injustice is infuriating, and I can’t help but wonder that if we had a better understanding of the factors affecting the BAME community, could more have been done to prevent her tragic death?

It’s clear ethnic minorities need to be protected as the nation gradually goes back out to work and socialising.

One solution I’ve heard is to encourage BAME people to remain isolated – but surely it’s not ethical to keep people like my parents locked up while others can roam free?

Alternatively, lockdown could remain in place and everyone could keep isolating, but with restrictions already beginning to ease, and many flouting the rules anyway, it seems unlikely.

We are all undoubtedly feeling the strain of the limitations, particularly on our mental health, and the next few weeks may be the most testing of them all.

The unthinkable, however, would be to act too hastily and be back to where we started in a couple of months time.

Ending lockdown without additional thought about how BAME communities will be affected won’t be fair to the NHS, or to the memories and friends and relatives of those who have already lost their lives.

We are at a crossroads: the government finally has a chance to do something positive for the UK’s BAME population by easing lockdown in a way that puts them first.

This includes an urgent push to find out why ethnic minorities are more vulnerable, with a governmental commitment to more research.

It’s so easy to get lost in the endless facts and figures but behind these numbers are faces and actual lives on the line – my parents included. It’s vital we look out for everyone and not just a selected handful.

I look forward to the day when lockdown is a thing of the past. Until then, we should act in the interests of those most at risk and keep the spirit of ‘we are all in this together’ going.

Otherwise, what was the point in everything we’ve done so far?

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing rosy.edwards@metro.co.uk

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