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 â€œpublish it nowâ€ so action could be taken.
Starmer said the government should â€œstop the excusesâ€, while Khan said â€œholding back this report does nothing except prolong this inequality and could cost more livesâ€.
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 reviewâ€™s release had been postponed because of â€œworriesâ€ around â€œcurrent global eventsâ€.
A source was quoted as saying there were concerns in Whitehall about the â€œclose proximity to the current situation in Americaâ€, where protesters are demanding an end to police violence against black people. The source reportedly said it would be a â€œbad combinationâ€ if the review was released amid such tensions.
Public Health England would initially say only that the â€œreport will be published shortlyâ€. The Department for Health and Social Care later added: â€œIt is not true to say this has been delayed due to global events.â€
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 ofÂ George Floyd, an African American man who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck.
â€œMinisters received initial findings today. They are being rapidly considered and a report will be published this week,â€ 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 peopleâ€™s vulnerability to Covid-19. Health bosses sought â€œinsightâ€ after it was reported that deaths among BAME communitiesÂ 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 possibleÂ so action could be taken to mitigate risks to vulnerable people.Â
Dr Zubaida Haque, the interim director of the Runnymede Trust, said: â€œThere is well-documented evidence of racial disparities, not only in in the pre-existing disparities leading up to Covid-19,Â as well as the outcomeÂ of Covid-19, but also how BAME people have been treated byÂ authorities during Covid-19.Â So I think in that sense, there is unease and anxiety about why itâ€™s delayed.
â€œGiven the global protests around racial inequalities, itâ€™s a sensitive issue, because I think we are aware that not only do racial disparities existÂ inÂ Covid-19 deaths, we are also aware that there are racial disparities in peopleâ€™s socioeconomic, housing and labour market status as wellÂ but also acutely aware that during Covid-19 there have been racial inequalities in the wayÂ BAMEÂ people have been finedÂ by policeÂ using their Covid-19 powers.Â There have been some cases ofÂ disproportionate use of force against black peopleÂ during theÂ lockdown.â€
Â Simon Woolley, the director of Operation Black Vote, said: â€œMy 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 areÂ some of the fundamental disparity gapsÂ that have exacerbatedÂ the impact, the death, and heartache that coronavirushas hadÂ on black and minority ethnic communities.â€
There was also criticism of the delay from unions representing healthcare workers.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association councilâ€™s chair, whose demand for a review in April, in an interview with the Guardian, helped bring the issue to public attention, said:Â â€œThe 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.â€
Dame Donna Kinnair, the Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, said: â€œThe 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.â€