Within months of the COVID-19 pandemic, international evidence on the disproportionate impact of  COVID by race and ethnicity began to emerge in countries that collect ethnicity data (the UK, USA, Canada, Norway and Brazil. Each provided more evidence that people living in a country where they were classified as minority ethnic, had a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 infection with more severe outcomes when infected.  As a response to this emerging data, the Strategy Unit undertook a small exploratory qualitative study between June and August 2020. We publish these stories, two years into the pandemic as a historical reflection.

We recruited via our own personal and professional networks to reach people who are often considered ‘hard to reach’. We conducted 11 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with people who self-identified as minority ethnic and who had experienced symptomatic COVID-19 illness. The purpose of this study was to record individual experiences of: becoming infected with COVID-19; the impact on their households; and, the management of symptoms including how they accessed and used health and care services.

Thematic analysis of the qualitative interview data identified five key themes as shown in the figure above. We previously presented these findings at the Strategy Unit’s 2020 Insight festival.

We are now publishing a summary of each of these interviews as narrative stories, that is first person accounts under the headings of:

  • My life before COVID
  • My experience of COVID
  • My life after (first infection with) COVID
  • Why my COVID experience matters

Whilst acknowledging the many overlapping experiences, we have grouped these 11 stories[1]  according to three main categories. We have also provided a summary of each of the three categories.  The interpretations are situated in the lived experiences of the qualitative team who undertook this piece of work.  We were motivated to challenge the overly simplified narrative of linking the poorer pandemic experiences of minority ethnic people with low socioeconomic status, cultural practices and front-line roles. The accounts collected in these interviews reveal both the counter-arguments and the nuances within these narratives.

[1] all names have been changed but where possible matched for ethnicity and religion.

Previous Strategy Unit analysis of emergency department use during the first lockdown showed marked differences by ethnicity. These qualitative accounts of minority ethnic British people navigating the first phase of the pandemic for why this was observed. They also provide more nuance to the over-generalised narratives of how ethnically diverse people and communities live and behave. 

Two years on, with the emergence of further differences in vaccination rates by ethnicity and faith (see Strategy Unit’s work on increasing vaccine uptake) these stories reiterate that the time to address long-standing issues of prejudice and trust between people and public institutions is now.