The COVID-19 inquiry has “doubled down” on its decision not to examine the impact of structural racism during the pandemic, according to bereaved families and campaigners.
People from ethnic minorities, whether health workers, key workers or members of the public, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and racism should be “explicitly interrogated” by the inquiry, a preliminary inquiry hearing was told on Tuesday .
“The items you were much more likely to die from COVID if you were BAME it’s clear,” said Charlie Williams, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.
“How can research be expected to learn lessons that will save lives in the future if it doesn’t touch on such an important issue?” he said.
According to the research team, the question of race or health inequality will be addressed where it is relevant to specific evidence sessions – for example the risk of death from coronavirus.
The inquiry’s lead adviser Jacqueline Cary KC said inequality was “very much at the forefront of our minds” but that including racism as a specific element was “neither necessary nor proportionate”.
According to a recent analysis of ONS data, the death rate was 3.1 times higher for Bangladeshi men than white British men. 2.3 times higher for Pakistani men. and 1.8 times higher in black Caribbean men.
Women from Bangladesh and Pakistan were more than twice as likely to die from COVID as white British women.
Rabinder Sherwood, also a member of the Families for Justice group, lost her parents to the virus in January 2021.
“Now the investigation has begun, how can we not see this?” he told Sky News.
“We missed it then during the height of the pandemic and we can’t lose it now – it’s absolutely fundamental.”
Allison Munroe KC, representing Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, urged the inquiry to look at structural racism during each section and appoint a special “key participant” to ensure the issue is properly represented throughout .
“Until we remove these factors that enabled its racial effect on the pandemic, we cannot mitigate a similar effect in any future crisis,” he said.
The current preliminary hearings concern the organization of the various investigative matters and evidentiary hearings.
He will not begin hearing evidence and questioning witnesses until June.
In her closing remarks, inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett said: “My mind is never closed and so I undertake to consider carefully all the submissions made today.”