The impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in Stevenage was discussed at a virtual meeting this weekend.

Co-ordinated by five groups including Stevenage World Forum, BeMe and Mind in Mid-Herts, expert panels discussed everything from children's mental health to vaccine uptake in minority groups.

Guest speakers included: GPs Dr Omon Imohi and Dr Linda Bello, Director of Public Health Hertfordshire Jim McManus, neurodevelopmental paediatrician Dr Susan Ozer, clinical pharmacist Sherifat Muhammad Kamal and primary school teacher Imrana Chowdhury.

Dr Omon Imohi, who works as a GP in Patterdale Lodge, explained that from the beginning of the pandemic it was clear that minority ethnic groups were being "disproportionately affected" by coronavirus.

She said: "The first 11 doctors who lost their lives to COVID-19 were from BAME backgrounds - it was shocking.

"Initially, when it started some people tried to tell me: 'It's not a black person's disease'. But we realised COVID-19 was irrespective of no one."

At the last census report in 2011, the Office for National Statistics reported Stevenage was 87.7 per cent White, with Black (3.3) Asian/Asian British (5.8) and Mixed or Other ethnic groups (3.2) making up the remainder of the town’s ethnic makeup.

A report shared by Herts County Council's Public Health team in February indicated that BAME communities in Hertfordshire have been "worst hit" by COVID-19 with "higher rates of infection and mortality".

The Comet: Protestors challenged the decision to delay the release of Public Health England's review into BAME coronavirus deathsProtestors challenged the decision to delay the release of Public Health England's review into BAME coronavirus deaths (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

And national figures from Public Health England highlight that those of Bangladeshi ethnicity were nearly twice as likely to die of COVID-19 once diagnosed compared with those of White ethnicity.

So why is it the case that BAME communities are at higher risk of catching COVID-19?

The answer isn't all that clear based on current research.

A common denominator across all reports, both national and more localised, suggests that those from BAME communities are more at risk of 1) Being infected with the virus and 2) Being at an increased risk of more serious health concerns once contracting COVID-19.

Such sentiment was summarised in HCC's February Public Health report: "It is clear from research so far that there isn’t a single factor present among ethnic minorities causing an increased risk of infection and mortality.

"It is rather the cumulative occupational, health, income and deprivational risks that are responsible."

Jim McManus, director of Public Health at HCC, added: "Inequalities were one of the reasons that people of Black and ethnic minority backgrounds died [during the pandemic].

"We must do everything in our power to stop that happening again. We have every reason for hope, but we also have every reason why we must be careful."

For more information about the work of BAME community groups in Stevenage, search BeMe and Stevenage World Forum on Google.