Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said the government was “determined to get a proper understanding” of why the coronavirus pandemic appeared to be “disproportionately affecting” people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

Responding to a question by our sister publication Eastern Eye’s executive editor, Shailesh Solanki, at the daily Downing Street briefing last Saturday (9), Shapps said: “We are very concerned about deaths among minority communities and south Asian community.

“At the moment we are unclear whether that is just proximity, in other words, more people from minority background happen to work in health and special care, or whether something else is going on.”

An inquiry led by Public Health England will report on BAME deaths because of the pandemic at the end of the month.

Eastern Eye asked what practical steps – in the interim – the government has undertaken to protect south Asians, key workers and their families while ministers wait for the findings, which are not due for a few more weeks. This is a matter of concern for many BAME communities as most live in extended families and are key workers.

Shapps said: “We absolutely will be led by the science on this find out what is going wrong. we owe it for everybody putting themselves on the frontline to find out exactly what is happening.”

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam also addressed the matter and said: “There is an enormous determination across the medical advisory function for the government to get to the bottom of this with real clarity.

“That’s why I don’t want to comment here today and offer you kind of silly quick fixes.

“This is a complex mixture of risk by age, risk by gender, risk by comorbidities, and there is an obesity signal beginning to emerge as well and on top of that and I am absolutely clear there is a signal around black and minority ethnic groups.

“No one I think is trying to brush that under the carpet or say it is not there, but it is complicated.

“We are taking this incredibly seriously. We are determined to get to the bottom of it in a proper and scientific way.”

PPE for pharmacy

To another question on whether the government would consider including pharmacists and retailers as key workers and provide them with good quality PPE so they can continue to serve the nation, Shapps said: “I think everybody on the frontline are key workers, they are keeping this country running at this incredibly difficult time. It applies to people in many different sections –you have mentioned two who are first amongst equals.

“Of course, we want to get the right protection for people in different settings. We know that in a health setting the PPE required is of a different level.”

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