TWENTY-TWENTY: The Year Black Britons Fought Covid-19 and Health Inequalities

by Thomas L Blair 29 December 2020©

Understanding this issue is vital. Our review of the year’s independent opinion articles can help you stay informed, and navigate what’s next on the horizon

In 2020 the unthinkable shock happened. Covid-19 infections ruptured the lives of NHS Black frontline staff – doctors, nurses and care workers, more so than in the general population.

Moreover, amid a second wave of infections,  a third of those admitted to intensive care are not white—showing no change since the first peak. Meanwhile, Black and Asian people have been found twice as likely to be infected compared to white people.

Ill-paid and under-appreciated, frontline staff have struggled to repair the damage and shone a light on the culprits.  Institutional inequalities on the job. The ominous vulnerability and health risks in minority neighbourhoods. Health regulators, parliamentarians and policymakers oblivious to reality.

From March on, campaigners tolled the ravages of COVID—19. [The Guardian’s Easter weekend cartoon gave a tribute with a cartoon of a Christ-like Black nurse bearing the medical cross up a steep hill.]

“Who is Caring for Black and minority ethnic Nurses and Midwives?”, campaigners pleaded. The deafening silence signaled “No one”. As a result, they launched their call for frontline solidarity in online video conferences and workshops.

This in turn drew attention to tackling health inequalities in virus-prone deprived areas. Many with higher numbers of Black people in low paid employment. History-minded campaigners praised the Black nurse pioneers in the founding of the National Health Service in 1948. Some remembered the valiant, community-inspired Black Cross nurses in the 1920-1940s.

Shattering “Blame the Victim” official reports

As a result, activists urged the NHS to create inclusive workplaces and reduce bullying. Eliminating discrimination and promoting equality. were urgent tasks.

Why? Because most official reports  target the Black victims’  so-called “underlying conditions” rather than the real villain, the unequal health system and British society. [These include the government’s Race Disparity Unit (RDU), based in the Cabinet Office, the Office for National Statistics and the second Public Health England report.]

In a rare rebuke, Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chair, complained: ethnic minorities have not seen any change in the disproportionate effects of the virus on their lives.

Continued promises and unfulfilled  pledges of reform are no longer acceptable, he implied. What’s needed is “more tangible action right now to protect them”.

Provision of the right protective equipment — like a simple face mask –will make workplaces virus secure. In addition, funding individuals to be tested and to self-isolate if infected is important. Especially, given the evidence that financial loss acts as a deterrent to do so.

Designing equality delivery

Three core remedial strategies are consistent with these ideas.

One, introducing in-house complaint mechanisms to encourage and protect whistle blowers with legitimate grievances.

Two, campaigners call for culturally competent public health and disease prevention research. Ownership and trust in communities is necessary to prevent more from harm.

Three,  Corporate leaders need to sign up to a charter that protects and promotes equality rights — they include health care directors, government ministers, policymakers and private interests.

The year was hard on us all. But urgent action can beat Covid-19 in Twenty-Twenty One. This can restore justice for severely affected communities. And as a result, create richly diverse, crisis ready, socially responsible public health institutions.


Thousands have turned to the Chronicleworld for vital, quality reports throughout a challenging and turbulent year. Our Twenty-Twenty articles cover the Covid-19 experiences and hopes of hard pressed Black frontline professionals, doctors, nurses, midwives, health care workers and their communities.

April 1, 2020. Covid-19 Virus Lockdown Spotlights Race Deficit

May 28, 2020. Covid-19| Black Nursing Leader’s Demand Health System Equality, Diversity and Human Rights

June 29, 2020. Allyship | Making NHS Whites Strong Allies for Racial Justice

July 25, 2020. COVID-19 | A Challenge to Black British Nurses: Finish the Fight for Healthy Black Communities

October 6, 2020. Black History Month 2020 UK: Leading Black Women Are Reimaging Its Pride and Power