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Ethnicity, race and Covid 19: socioeconomic inequality, discrimination, culture, nature?

3:00 pm - 4:30 pm | 15 January 2021
Online | Free

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed stark racial health inequalities. In many countries members from certain ethnic groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic .

Emerging data shows that people of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background are at much greater risk of death from COVID-19 in the UK. The risk of mortality in the black population, for instance, is over four times as high as that of the white population; in Bangladeshi and Pakistani people the risk is nearly twice as high as in the white population. In the US, the risk of death amongst Black Americans is almost three times that of white Americans. Similar patterns have also been reported in several other countries: e.g. Brazil,  France,  Canada,  Sweden and Norway.

The unequal impact of the pandemic on ethnic minority groups  extends  beyond infection and mortality rates. In the UK, researchers have voiced concerns that people of BAME background are likely to be worse affected by the lockdown, for example in terms of their mental health, and also by the economic recession to follow and projected job and income losses.

Several countries have reported police use of racial profiling in the enforcement of lockdown measures, with ethnic minorities being disproportionately stopped and fined. Reports have also emerged of significant increases in racist speech and hate crimes directed against Asians, Jews, Muslims and people of African descent during the pandemic.

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This session examines the various ways in which ethnicity and race influence the impact of pandemics.


Dr Miqdad Asaria (LSE) is a health economist with extensive experience in both academic and policy making settings. His research interests include health inequalities, health financing, healthcare prioritisation and healthcare management with a particular focus on the health systems in India and the UK. He currently holds a fellowship from The Health Foundation to investigate the role of management on hospital performance. He employs methods from health econometrics, cost-effectiveness analysis and micro-simulation modelling in his research.

Dr Zubaida Haque is a Member of Independent Sage, Commissioner for the Women’s Budget Group and for the Hamilton Commission, and Former Interim Director of the Runnymede Trust.

About the Series

The Pandemics and Inequality: The ethical, legal and policy challenges of tackling COVID-19 in an unequal world series will examine the ethical, legal and policy challenges and implications of addressing the current COVID-19 crisis in a world of high socioeconomic inequality. The series has been organised by The Transnational Law Institute at Dickson Poon School of Law (King’s College London), King’s Global Health Institute, and the department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

Public health recommendations on how to respond to pandemics are, on the surface, simple and clear: find, test, isolate, impose quarantines and lockdown. The WHO – International Health Regulations of 2005, a binding international treaty with the participation of 196 countries, sets out this general framework of measures that countries are under an obligation to implement. As WHO Director General Dr Tedros recently put it: “One of the most fundamental ingredients for stopping this virus is determination and willingness to make hard choices to keep ourselves and each other safe”. (WHO Press Conference, 27.7.2020)

Little consideration is given, however, to socioeconomic factors that significantly affect the capacity of countries to implement these measures, even when the political will is present to do so. Such factors go a long way in explaining the significantly differential impact of the pandemics across and within countries, such as widely reported higher infection and death rates, as well as economic hardship, among certain groups of the population.

As we are clearly not “all in this together” in many respects – even if it is true that the virus itself “respects no borders, gender, race etc.” – it is important to critically analyse the current framework of responding to pandemics with a view to improving it for a future where such events seem significantly more likely.

This debate requires the participation not only of public health experts, but also ethicists, lawyers, economists and representatives of many other disciplines of the social sciences.

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