Published: 02:53 PM, 19 July 2021
A professor from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) says theGovernment’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, designed to kick start the hospitalityindustry during lockdown, was responsible for a huge rise in deaths among theBangladeshi and Pakistani community.
Professor Parvez Haris, a biomedical scientist at DMU, has now warnedthat as social distancing and mask-wearing ends today, on so called FreedomDay, COVID could rip through communities again.
Professor Haris, who will present his findings to global health expertsat the International Festival of Public Health in Manchester this Thursday,said: “The Eat Outto Help Out scheme turned out to be an opportunity for businesses and theirstaff to make money they desperately needed and provided enjoyment for hundredsof thousands of customers, but it created the ideal environment for exposure toCOVID-19, and the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities bore the brunt of this”.
He said while the Government is producing health and safety guidance fordifferent occupations, including the hospitality industry, UK local authoritiesneed to work closely with small businesses to carry out extensive riskassessments of restaurants and takeaways, implement health and safety rules andprotect workers and customers from COVID-19.
In contrast to other ethnic groups, there wasa dramatic increase in deaths, among men and women from Pakistani andBangladeshi ethnicities during the second wave of COVID last autumn and winter.
The Bangladeshi ethnicity had the highest mortality rates, 5.0 and 4.1times greater compared to White British men and women respectively. Other ethnic groups which had seen a largeincrease in deaths in the first wave, such as African Caribbean and BlackAfrican, saw a fall in the second wave.
Until now, there has been no detailed explanation for this huge increasein mortality but Professor Haris believes it was all down to a number offactors relating to the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
The Office for National Statistics shows that more than 30 per cent ofthe Pakistani and Bangladeshi population in the UK work in the hospitalityindustry, higher than any other ethnic group, while almost 20 per cent work intransport.
Professor Haris says the Government’s Eat out to Help Out scheme inAugust last year, which paid for restaurants, pubs, cafés and fast food outletsto offer 50 per cent discounts on meals three times a week, led to the openingup of many small food outlets, understandably desperate to cash in on theinitiative, which came prior to any vaccine being available.
He explained: “It is not rocket science. COVID-19 is an occupational disease thatbecame clearly evident in the UK through the differences in mortality ratesamong ethnic groups in the second wave, with dramatic increases in groupsworking mainly in the hospitality sector during the Eat out to Help Out scheme.
“Small kitchens in restaurants andfast-food outlets with seating were packed with staff serving unusually highnumbers of customers taking advantage of these heavily discounted meals.
“Wearing masks, at least properlywith the nose and mouth fully covered, in a hot kitchen environment, duringbusy periods and over several hours of continuous work, is unlikely to havebeen easy. Social distancing in a kitchenenvironment is virtually impossible due to space limitation and the need tomove around.
“Furthermore, the ventilationsystems in kitchens vary widely and may not have been adequate enough toeliminate virus-laden water droplets exhaled by the restaurant workers.
“Exposure of the virus betweenworkers and customers is likely to have been higher during the scheme comparedto any other periods over the last 18 months. All of this will have created anideal environment for the transmission of the virus between restaurant workersand customers and thereafter the virus was being transmitted to family membersand others in the community.”
Professor Haris will also tellthe conference on Thursday that the Office of National Statistics figures showthe Bangladeshis and Pakistanis make up the highest percentage of peopleworking in the transport andcommunication sector, at 17.8 per cent.
“Thiscategory of workers, particularly taxi and mini-cab drivers, wouldhave been more active taking customers to and from restaurants. The driversneeded the money and the customers were after a much-needed night out ,” hesaid.
“To protect lives and protect the NHS,we need to address the occupational exposure in businesses such as takeaways,restaurants, cafes, pubs, taxis and mini-cab firms, many of which are smallbusinesses and lack the necessary resource to implement health and safetyprocedures to protect their staff.
“The decrease in mortality among theBlack African and African Caribbean communities can be explained by the fact ahigher percentage (43.6%) of people from this group work in public administration, education and health. These are mainly large organisations thathave the necessary resource to carry out risk assessments and rigorously applyhealth and safety measures including the possibility to work from home.
“We need to use data and act in a targeted manner and this includes identifyingthe main sources of exposure to COVID and preventing it at the source, beforeit reaches homes and the community. Government support is vital to make surethis happens.
“Grantsshould be available for small businesses to improve ventilation. That couldmake a significant impact in not only reducing COVID-19 infections but alsoimproving the quality of air in places such as kitchens that could seeimprovements in the long-term health of workers. Ultimatelyit is not about race, ethnicity or class, it is about saving human lives anddata should be used to identify who is at risk, and why, and how things can bechanged for the better.”