Labour is calling on the Scottish Government to record and publish detailed data about the impact of Covid-19 on Scotland’s ethnic minorities to help establish if they are at greater risk.
Anas Sarwar MSP has written to health secretary Jeane Freeman urging the Scottish Government to recognise that there is a disproportionate impact on Scotland’s entire black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community because of work, societal and natural reasons.
Analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found black men and women in England and Wales are more than four times more likely to die a coronavirus-related death than white people after accounting for age, while people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Indian and mixed ethnicities also had an increased risk of death involving Covid-19 compared with those of white ethnicity.
Sarwar said the Scottish Government should recognise that BAME frontline healthcare workers may be at increased risk from the complications of Covid-19 and will require “risk assessment” of their roles if Scottish data mirrors that of England.
He said: “In return for the lifesaving work they are doing on the frontline, Scotland’s ethnic minority communities deserve to know whether they are at a greater risk from Covid-19 and – if so – what steps can be taken to prevent further loss of life.
“I have written to the Scottish Government with a number of questions and recommendations, including what lessons were learnt from a 2015 study into high rates of lower respiratory tract infection among Scots of Pakistani origin.
“I believe tailored messaging for Scotland’s BAME population could improve health outcomes, including the promotion of Vitamin D supplements.
“The health secretary assures me that she takes this very seriously and I welcome the opportunity for further discussions with her this week.”
He said the Scottish Government should engage with Public Health England as part of its inquiry into the issue, feed into its analysis and consider whether a Scottish inquiry is necessary once data is available.
In his letter, Sarwar said that in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, there are a number of possible factors which could contribute to a higher rate of both contraction and death.
He wrote: “BAME people are more likely to work on the frontline in the health and social care sectors, where they are more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. BAME individuals are also more likely to use public transport, work in other key jobs such as the retail sector and live in densely populated areas.
“Many live in areas of high deprivation and a clear link between poverty and Covid-19 has already been established. There are also cultural issues which must be considered as factors – notably that BAME individuals in Scotland often share their home with their extended family, increasing human interaction.
“Finally, natural reasons must be considered, with it well documented that dark skin leads to lower levels of Vitamin D, which in turn leads to weaker immune systems.”
The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.