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Poverty, poor housing and racism has made Covid-19 ‘endemic’ in parts of Britain

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Issue 2721


People in south London fighting for decent housing before the coronavirus crisis
People in south London fighting for decent housing before the coronavirus crisis (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Covid-19 could now be endemic in some of the poorest areas of Britain.

A leaked confidential report suggested the virus has become a permanent ­fixture in areas with severe deprivation, poor housing and large black and ethnic minority populations.

The Public Health England (PHE) report referred specifically to north west England, where several local ­lockdowns have been put in place. But it said its findings could apply to many other areas of the country.

“The overall analysis suggests Bolton, Manchester, Oldham and Rochdale never really left the epidemic phase,” it said.

“And that nine of the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester are currently experiencing an epidemic phase.”

The study builds links between the highest concentrations of Covid-19 and issues of deprivation, poor and crowded accommodation and ethnicity.

Its findings suggest that a key driver of coronavirus is pressure on poorer people to continue working in unsafe conditions. And poor quality, overcrowded housing helps to incubate and spread the virus.

This disproportionately affects black people thanks to structural racism that means they’re more likely to work in unsafe jobs and live in substandard housing.

Another report from the Runnymede Trust released in August revealed how black and ethnic minority groups are over-represented in key worker roles. They have had fewer opportunities to work from home.

They’ve had to use public transport more and are less likely to have been given adequate personal protective equipment.


Public health professor and independent Sage committee member Gabriel Scally said the leaked PHE report was “extremely ­alarming”.

“The data on housing is extraordinarily important,” he said. “Housing conditions are so important and always have been, whether it was for cholera or tuberculosis or Covid-19.

“Doing something about housing conditions for ­someone who has an active infection is extremely important and it is not something that can be handled by a call centre run by a commercial company hundreds of miles away.”

Scally added that helping people to isolate by giving financial support is also crucial.

“Taking two weeks off if you are on a zero-hours contract is not an option for people,” he said.

The PHE report used its findings to question how effective local lockdowns are in reducing the spread of infections.

It asked, “If these areas were not able to attain near zero-Covid status during full lockdown, how realistic is it that we can expect current restriction escalations to work?”

But this shouldn’t be an excuse to end all lockdown restrictions.

Instead it shows that the way to tackle coronavirus is to stop the push back to work and provide safe, affordable housing for all.

Tory love of private sector is behind test failures

The failure of Britain’s test and trace system is down to government “ideology” and its obsession with using the private sector, a senior public health expert has warned.

Professor Anthony Costello told the Independent Sage committee that the test and trace system—contracted out to private companies—had “failed”.

The national test and trace system is based on call centres staffed by outsourcing firm Serco.

In many outbreak areas, the centralised system is failing to reach clinical targets of tracing 80 percent of named contacts.

Virus experts say that target is necessary for it to be effective.

By contrast, public local authority-administered systems are tracing about 95 percent of contacts.

Yet the Tories renewed Serco’s £300 million contract to operate the call centres last month.

Costello said, “The whole thing is public health malpractice and it’s being designed and led by government ideology. They wanted a private system. It has failed, and we need to keep saying that.”

Meanwhile, parts of the north east of England ran out of coronavirus tests last week.

The area has seen a surge in cases, and Gateshead currently has one of the highest infection rates in England.

Government officials claim they have to ration tests to focus more on infection hotspots.

This makes it harder to quickly identify new outbreaks.


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