Black and minority ethnic people trusted government scientists and public health officials less than white people did at the height of the UK’s coronavirus outbreak, according to a study that raises fresh questions about the pandemic’s disproportionate impact.
BAME people were more likely to believe their employers’ advice than anything Boris Johnson or the government said, and trusted the NHS and Public Health England (PHE) less than white people did, the research suggests.
At the same time they felt more vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19 and were far more likely to say it was difficult to follow the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of infection, according to the survey for the Wellcome Trust carried out in March and April as the virus reached its peak.
The findings prompted questions about whether more could have been done to better communicate with different communities, with one council leader querying the impact of daily Downing Street briefings that were frequently presented by three white men.
Fifty-seven per cent of BAME people reported having either complete trust or a great deal of trust in information from health scientists, compared with 75% of white people. Forty-five per cent of BAME people had either complete trust or a great deal of trust in information from government scientific advisers, compared with 65% of white people. BAME people were more worried about Covid-19’s impact on their physical, mental and financial wellbeing and about the impact on children’s education.
A PHE review found black people were the ethnic group most likely to test positive for coronavirus, and white people were the least. People of Bangladeshi ethnicity had about twice the risk of death than that for white people and mortality rates were higher for black and Asian groups when compared with white people. The study found socioeconomic factors, including more cramped housing, jobs that require increased human contact and greater use of public transport were key.
“As Europe teeters on the brink of a second wave and we see more local lockdowns, these findings show that a more targeted approach to messaging will be key to ensuring that different groups can access, understand and trust government guidance,” said Carla Ross, a research and evidence lead at Wellcome. “We hope that local authorities and policymakers can use these findings to inform their public health strategies as we enter this critical period.”
Arooj Shah, the deputy leader of Oldham council in Greater Manchester, which this month recorded the highest infection rate in the country, highlighted a possible barrier created by the daily Downing Street press briefings that often involved “three white men behind a podium telling you what you are doing”. She said: “You need to start looking like the people you represent.”
The BAME proportion of Oldham’s population is about 50% higher than the rest of England and last week, as it tightened restrictions on households mixing and public transport use, it enlisted the Pakistan cricket captain, Azhar Ali, to record a YouTube video message urging people to “hold our nerve and stick to the Covid restrictions and stay safe … maintain social distancing and avoid physical contact”.
However, Shah said she did not believe the impact of Covid on her area was down to a lack of trust, but rather factors including densely occupied housing and type of employment, which made it harder to avoid infection. “The lack of trust is not the reason for high levels [of infection] in BAME communities in Oldham,” she said. “The reasons are socioeconomic.”
Source: The Guardian