To successfully combat a pandemic, health protection measures rely on well-prepared and well-functioning health services that treat and support everyone, ensuring those most at risk are protected. 

However, according to global health experts writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, society's response to Covid-19 is harmful to ethnic minorities and migrants.

The risk of contracting Covid-19, the severity of the illness and the risk of poor health related to the policies and actions responding to the pandemic are all increased in minority groups, the authors write.

"Black, Asian and minority ethnic and migrant groups have a greater risk of contracting Covid-19 infection, as they are more likely to live in poor and overcrowded accommodation and do precarious forms of work or work in the gig economy. They are also more likely to get a severe form of the infection," said lead author Dr Delan Devakumar, of the Institute for Global Health at University College London.

Many migrant groups, especially those without documents, are less likely to seek help, or may seek help later, with more advanced disease, according to the authors. The UK Government's 'hostile environment' policy, they write, including barriers to accessing the health service, such as upfront charging and the sharing of data with the Home Office, has led to migrants avoiding healthcare.

Public health principles should be based around equity

With the UK and the world more generally likely to enter one of the deepest recessions in a lifetime, the authors say that the poorest, with insecure employment and most vulnerable in terms of health, are at risk for other stress-related health problems, especially mental health issues, that increase in times of recession.

The authors also said that we also need to be careful to ensure that current emergency policies are maintained only as far as they are required to combat Covid-19. While technology, for example contact tracing apps for surveillance, may prove to be useful, it can also easily infringe on human rights afterwards, with minority and marginalised groups being affected disproportionately.

"Economic hardship is a fertile ground for populist movements to thrive and sadly, many world leaders have used the Covid-19 outbreak, mixing public health actions with divisive policies to further their own agendas," said Dr Devakumar, adding that minority and marginalised groups will bear the brunt.

"To successfully combat a pandemic, health protection measures rely on well-prepared and well-functioning health services that treat and support everyone, ensuring those most at risk are protected. Public health principles based around equity should be firmly at the core of the world's response."