Risk from exposure

In this section we share the concerns that people had about catching Covid that connected to the different ways they were exposed to the virus. Most people we spoke to recognised that some people were more likely to come into contact with Covid than others because of their jobs, gender and their race/ethnicity. The topics we cover are:

  • Recognition of inequality in Covid risk
  • Risk because of occupation and socioeconomic position
  • Risk because of race/ethnicity
  • Risk because of gender

There are a number of different ways that people we spoke to referred to their race and ethnicity. Some used labels like Black, Asian or White. Others used broader categories such as Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME). In this section we use the terms that people we spoke to use to describe themselves and others, and we also use the phrase ‘minority ethnic groups’ as a wider category.

Recognition of inequality and Covid risk

Some people we spoke to, like Matt, described the virus as having affected everyone equally. Others, like Cat, disagreed and said that the pandemic had actually shown very clearly that we’re not ‘all in this together’. This was because certain types of people were more likely to come into contact with the virus or experience severe complications as a result of illness.

Matt described feeling unsettled realising that the virus could affect anyone.

Cat described how the course of the pandemic had followed the lines of social injustice.

People described becoming aware of social inequalities in risks of Covid infection from a number of sources: news and media coverage, their own observations on the basis of working in communities and, in healthcare settings, observations of the patients they were seeing.

Helen is a midwife working in a diverse area and noticed lots of deaths.

Gulsoom saw from her community work that less White people were getting sick with Covid.

As described in ‘Sources of information about Covid-19’, many people said that they did not trust the government or the mainstream news. They disputed how social inequalities were being presented. For example, Emma felt that government messages about racial/ethnic inequalities related to the pandemic were being presented in ways that suggested that minority ethnic groups were responsible for the spread of the virus. She felt that news about social inequalities in the Covid-19 pandemic was therefore stigmatising.

Shirin and Mohammed said that BME people were being blamed for spreading Covid.

People described particular awareness of differences in risk due to:

  • Occupation (job) and socioeconomic* position
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Gender

Risk due to occupation and socio-economic position

As described in the section ‘Employment and Covid-19’, many people we spoke with worked in jobs that could not be carried out from home. People in keyworker occupations, especially those in health and social care, but also in other sectors, described fear about catching Covid through contact the public. Particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, their fears were increased due to a lack of appropriate PPE.

Emdad describes wearing a mask to protect himself while working in public transport, but is aware of the risks faced by keyworkers.

Tun is a surgeon and felt unprotected by inadequate PPE.

Alongside providing their workers with PPE, some employers were proactive in considering the different risks faced by their workers and considering other adaptations to their job roles.

Christina manages a care home and describes some staff feeling vulnerable even with risk assessment procedures put in place to protect workers.

People in less secure jobs, such as those working on ‘zero hours contracts’, felt they had to carry on working for economic reasons, even if this work involved lots of contact with the public. Mudasar described how his family were worried about his exposure to Covid as a taxi-driver and encouraged him to stop working, but how he needed to keep the family financially afloat.

Mudasar describes working as a ‘do or die situation’ because of his financial situation.

Risk due to race/ethnicity

Most people we spoke with were aware of the additional risks faced by minority ethnic groups. Because of this, some White people expressed awareness of their relative privilege.

Genevieve describes feeling relatively fortunate facing infection as a White person.

Whereas White people tended to focus on their occupational risks, people from minority ethnic groups described a sense of how any occupational or socioeconomic risks they faced connected with their racial/ethnic identity. Surindar noticed that the people she saw continuing to do public-facing work during the pandemic were all Black. Miura connected her risk as a Black woman to her job which, because of racialised discrimination against her overseas qualifications, was in low-paid social care.

Surindar noticed how the keyworkers who were facing most risk from Covid were all minorities.

People we spoke to also recognised that some of the vulnerability to Covid minority ethnic groups faced was because of more of them lived in urban areas and sometimes in overcrowded and multi-generational housing.

Mr Eshaan wondered how much of the risk faced by minority ethnic communities was because they lived in areas hard-hit by Covid.

As described in the section ‘Fears about being admitted to hospital’, some people we spoke to suspected that racial discrimination in healthcare settings was why there were more deaths among minority ethnic communities. They felt this was made worse because family members were not allowed to accompany patients to translate or advocate for their needs (this expectation of racial discrimination was also reflected in vaccine hesitancy, see ‘Vaccination’). Claudia also suspected that people from minority ethnic communities not following social distancing rules was a cause of greater Covid risk. Many people echoed this talk about less strict rule-following, although others, such as Fahmida, disagreed strongly.

Claudia said that fear of racial discrimination in healthcare stopped people from minority ethnic groups from seeking help.

Many people we spoke to offered biological explanations of racial/ethnic differences in Covid risk. They thought differences were because of genes or not having enough Vitamin D. Again however, other people we spoke to challenged these explanations and highlighted the broader social inequalities faced by people from minority ethnic groups.

Gertrude thought Vitamin D had a role in why ethnic minorities were more affected by Covid.

Milembe wondered why more Black people were dying in the UK than in African countries.

Risk due to gender norms

A minority of people we spoke to thought that gender norms led to differences in Covid risks. Similar to what people said about race/ethnicity, some people talked about gender norms connected with occupational risks, in that people working in low-paid social care roles were often women facing job market discrimination.

Miura saw similarities between the discrimination faced by older women and migrants in access to good jobs.

As well as in the job market, where women are disproportionately found in paid care roles, some highlighted how gender norms surrounding the provision of informal care within households would lead to women doing more caring for others when they were ill and saw this as responsible for gender differences in the risk of long Covid. Sindhu reflected on how mothers of young children ask for less help from other people.

Susanne saw women’s informal care responsibilities as contributing to their risk of Long Covid.

* Socioeconomic: The position or status of a person or group in a society as defined by a combination of social and economic factors that affect access to education and other resources important to a person’s upward mobility.

How people caught Covid

In this section we explore people’s thoughts about how they might have caught Covid, as well as reflections on who the might have passed it...