A quarter of people in the UK face discrimination since the Covid-19 lockdown begun, according to a social study run by the University College of London. It found that the most common forms of discrimination are being treated with less respect or courtesy than others.
Those who experienced discrimination also said that they are receiving poorer service than others in stores and for deliveries. Other people are acting as if they were afraid of them, they added.
Understanding perceived discrimination
Perceived discrimination is discrimination based on the perception that an individual is a member of a certain group. In the UCL social study, it shows that about 42% of people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and 40% of those between 18 and 30 years old of all ethnicities were most likely to experience discrimination. The researchers also found that those living in urban areas experience slightly higher levels of discrimination than those in rural areas. In the same way, women experience slightly higher levels of discrimination than men.
The ongoing Covid-19 Social Study by the UCL team is the largest in the UK into how adults are feeling about the pandemic lockdown and their government advice. It has more than 70,000 participants, who have been followed in the last 21 weeks. The study also tracks patterns of mental health and loneliness in the country.
The irony of isolation
Results also show that people have grown closer to neighbors during lockdown with almost 29% of the respondents saying their shared values increased and they felt their neighbors have become more supportive. The same thing is observed in the US. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Anne Marie Chaker refers to the situation as the “irony of isolation" as people have rekindled their friendships with their neighbors while in social isolation.
The study’s lead author Dr. Daisy Fancourt, who is from UCL Epidemiology & Health Care, said that there has been a rise in perceived discrimination during the lockdown, particularly among BAME groups and younger people. Perhaps, it is because certain groups are perceived to not take proper care in preventing the virus or they are likely to carry the coronavirus.
The death of 46-year-old black American man George Floyd on May 25 and the Black Lives Matters protests that followed may have also led to the increase in experiences and awareness of discrimination among people of many groups. People with existing disabilities or health conditions may moreover feel discriminated against because they are at increased risk of dying from Covid-19. UK Parliament’s Coronavirus Act 2020, which grants government emergency powers to handle the Covid-19, have also serious implications for the rights of older people and those with disabilities.
Coronavirus Act weakens detection safeguards
Human Rights Watch states that said emergency powers, like restrictions on public transport and gathering, can be justified because of the continuing spread of the virus. However, additional powers, such as detaining those suspected of being infected with Covid-19 for testing as well as making it easier to detail individuals on mental health grounds, will possibly create violations of human rights.
Akiko Hart, CEO of UK National Survivor User Network (NSUN), told the Human Rights Watch that these are already unprecedented times. Yet, weakening the safeguards is a “grave step” and risks the rights of people with disabilities.
The HRW also said that the weakened detention safeguards may disproportionately impact the BAME communities. An independent review last year highlights that the members of BAME are eight times more likely to be subject to involuntary outpatient treatment and have longer than average lengths of stay in psychiatric hospitals.
As of August 15, the United Kingdom has 316, 367 coronavirus cases, reports Worldometer. From a peak of 7,860 daily new cases on April 10, it went down to 1,440 cases on August 13.
The UCL social study pointed out that complete compliance with lockdown rules in the UK remains at around 40%. The levels of compliance are the highest among people over the age of 60 and the lowest among people below 30. Nuffield Foundation’s Education Program Head Cheryl Lloyd the recent social research indicates that people have experienced an increase in support and shared values from their local community during the pandemic. Yet, we also continue to see divisions into how the health crisis is affecting the everyday lives of people of different groups, including the young and older people.
Discrimination amid the Covid-19 outbreak
In another survey conducted by Pew Research Center between June 4 and 10, it also found that about four in ten Black (38%) and Asian (39%) adults say people have acted as if they were uncomfortable around them because of their ethnicity or race since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. About the same number of people say they worry that others may be suspicious of them if they wear a mask when out in public.
Black women (31%) are less likely than Black men (49%) to say someone acted as if someone acted uncomfortable around them since the outbreak. The UNESCO has acknowledged this, saying that the pandemic provoked a series of discriminator acts not just in one country but across continents. As reported by UNESCO Chairs from Greece, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, and Italy, discriminatory episodes comprise of verbal assaults in public, a boycott of their business activities, difficulties in access to educational institutions, and denigrating campaigns on social media.
THE CDC reminded the public that no group of people or single persons are more likely than others to spread Covid-19 but anxiety and fear can lead to social stigma. Consequently, the stigma can lead to discrimination, stereotyping, labeling, and other negative behaviors toward others.
We should not allow the pandemic to serve as a vehicle for discrimination. Public health officials and community leaders can prevent the stigma by maintaining confidentiality and privacy of those seeking healthcare and are part of the contact investigation. We should also avoid quickly communicating the risk or the lack thereof from contacts with places, people, and products.
The Covid-19 is already a tragedy. We must not allow our fear and panic to breed discrimination, racism, or intolerance.