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World

People Of Color In U.K. Disproportionately Affected By COVID-19

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO (HOST): They say the coronavirus doesn't discriminate, but as we've seen in the U.S. some communities of color have been hit very hard. And the same seems to be the case in the United Kingdom, where people of Pakistani descent have been nearly three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white Britons, blacks of African descent nearly four times, based on government data. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT (BYLINE): About 4 in every 5 people in the U.K. are white. But when Shaista Aziz, local government councillor in Oxford, looks at who's dying from COVID-19, she's struck at how many look more like her, particularly in the National Health Service.

SHAISTA AZIZ (COUNCILLOR, OXFORD): If you look at the NHS staff who've passed away and who've been hit hardest, it is impossible to not recognize that they are people of color.

LANGFITT: Aziz is of Pakistani descent. She says she has friends who've lost three or four family members.

AZIZ: There's a lot of trauma in our communities. There's a lot of fear for our loved ones. And there's a lot of questions that we want answers to. So we want to know why this disease is disproportionately impacting communities of color.

LANGFITT: Ross Warwick has some ideas. He's a research economist with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a London think tank, which is working on a review of inequality in Britain.

ROSS WARWICK (RESEARCH ECONOMIST, INSTITUTE FOR FISCAL STUDIES): In older age brackets, a number of ethnic minorities do have a higher prevalence of health conditions that we would tend to think would put them at risk from coronavirus, including diabetes, including cardiovascular and respiratory problems, as well.

LANGFITT: But Warwick thinks there are other contributing factors. Some ethnic minorities who tend to be poor are also more likely to live in crowded living conditions, where the virus spreads more easily.

WARWICK: Especially in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups, the prevalence of single-person households is much, much lower than the white British majority.

LANGFITT: Ethnic minorities are also more likely to be key workers, such as doctors, nurses and bus drivers, who are more exposed to the virus. Dr. Chaand Nagpaul chairs the British Medical Association. He says two-thirds of the more than 200 health workers who've died of COVID-19 are minorities. And surveys show some doctors from what's known here as BAME - or black and minority ethnic backgrounds - may have been put in even riskier situations.

CHAAND NAGPAUL (CHAIRMAN, BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION): About 50% of doctors during the pandemic advised us that they felt they were pressured to see patients without full protection. And BAME doctors reported that about two to three times as often as white doctors.

LANGFITT: Nagpaul adds that surveys show minority physicians suffer more bullying and harassment at work.

NAGPAUL: We also know from the NHS that doctors from a black and ethnic minority background are less likely to challenge and raise concerns about safety in the workplace.

LANGFITT: Britain isn't the only country in Europe where minorities have been disproportionately affected. In Norway, Somalis have been especially hard hit. Linda Noor, managing director of Minotenk - a minority think tank - said one reason's because the government didn't provide enough Somali language information on the virus where Somalis could easily find it.

LINDA NOOR (MANAGING DIRECTOR, MINOTENK): The work that the Somali community did was really amazing. So they opened voluntarily a hotline for people to call and get information in Somalia. They made a lot of videos...

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking non-English language).

NOOR: So things actually got better quite fast.

LANGFITT: Back in Britain, Shaista Aziz says she believes minorities have suffered more from COVID-19 because of what she says are racialized inequalities in housing jobs in the workplace, which she thinks the pandemic will make impossible to ignore. Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.