Boris Johnson is under pressure to immediately publish the findings of an inquiry into why black and minority ethnic groups have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus, after accusations that it has been delayed over fears it could stoke racial tensions.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, and Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said the government must “publish it now” so action could be taken.
Starmer said the government should “stop the excuses”, while Khan said “holding back this report does nothing except prolong this inequality and could cost more lives”.
The report was scheduled to be released by the end of May but it was delayed and is now not expected until the end of this week at the earliest.
Sky News had reported that the review’s release had been postponed because of “worries” around “current global events”.
A source was quoted as saying there were concerns in Whitehall about the “close proximity to the current situation in America”, where protesters are demanding an end to police violence against black people. The source reportedly said it would be a “bad combination” if the review was released amid such tensions.
Public Health England would initially say only that the “report will be published shortly”. The Department for Health and Social Care later added: “It is not true to say this has been delayed due to global events.”
On Monday night, the department denied reports the delay was caused by official concerns of potential civil unrest linked to global anger over the death of George Floyd, an African American man who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck.
“Ministers received initial findings today. They are being rapidly considered and a report will be published this week,” a spokeswoman said.
However, the department has refused to put a firm date on when the report will be published, with government sources only saying that it was sent to ministers on Monday for review.
The report was commissioned to analyse how factors such as ethnicity, obesity and gender can affect people’s vulnerability to Covid-19. Health bosses sought “insight” after it was reported that deaths among BAME communities were disproportionately high.
Analysis by University College London has found BAME people are two to three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population.
Campaigners said it was imperative that the inquiry was published as soon as possible so action could be taken to mitigate risks to vulnerable people.
Dr Zubaida Haque, the interim director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “There is well-documented evidence of racial disparities, not only in in the pre-existing disparities leading up to Covid-19, as well as the outcome of Covid-19, but also how BAME people have been treated by authorities during Covid-19. So I think in that sense, there is unease and anxiety about why it’s delayed.
“Given the global protests around racial inequalities, it’s a sensitive issue, because I think we are aware that not only do racial disparities exist in Covid-19 deaths, we are also aware that there are racial disparities in people’s socioeconomic, housing and labour market status as well but also acutely aware that during Covid-19 there have been racial inequalities in the way BAME people have been fined by police using their Covid-19 powers. There have been some cases of disproportionate use of force against black people during the lockdown.”
Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote, said: “My view is that we need to have this report sooner rather than later. The impact on black and minority ethnic communities has been devastating and we want to work with the government on understanding the data but even more importantly having solutions to close what we see are some of the fundamental disparity gaps that have exacerbated the impact, the death, and heartache that coronavirushas had on black and minority ethnic communities.”
There was also criticism of the delay from unions representing healthcare workers.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association council’s chair, whose demand for a review in April, in an interview with the Guardian, helped bring the issue to public attention, said: “The government-commissioned review by Public Health England needs to be concluded as soon as possible in order for us to make sense of why this dreadful virus is impacting so adversely on the BAME community and what needs to be done to urgently protect them.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, the Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, said: “The Public Health England review must be published as a matter of urgency. Every day we go without knowing why BAME health and care staff are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 is another day these workers are needlessly put at extra risk.”