Systemic racial injustice in England is not the reason people from ethnic minorities are more likely to die from coronavirus, a minister has said.
Kemi Badenoch said work was under way to find out why risks were higher for some ethnic groups.
But she hit back at claims from opposition MPs that “systemic injustice” was to blame.
“This is one of the best countries in the world to be a black person,” the equalities minister told MPs.
During heated Commons exchanges, Labour’s Rupa Huq raised the Black Lives Matter protests in Westminster on Wednesday, saying: “The placard that sticks in my mind most is one that said ‘Being black should not be a death sentence’.”
Ms Badenoch insisted the government was examining the reasons for the higher death rate and stressed that it would be more than just a “box-ticking exercise”.
But she added: “Let us not in this House use statements like ‘being black is a death sentence’, which young people out there hear, don’t understand the context and then continue to believe that they live in a society that is against them when actually this is one of the best countries in the world to be a black person.”
Labour’s Zarah Sultana called for a strategy covering all government departments to tackle underlying inequalities and “systemic injustice”, adding that Covid-19 does not discriminate but the “system in which it is spreading does”.
A report by Public Health England this week confirmed people from ethnic minorities are at higher risk of dying from coronavirus.
The report showed that age remains the biggest risk factor, while being male is another.
The government has faced criticism for not publishing any recommendations to address these disparities.
Labour’s shadow equalities minister Marsha De Cordova called for an action plan, adding: “The government must not wait any longer to address underlying racial and socioeconomic injustices, so that no more lives are lost.”
Ms Badenoch also faced claims from Labour and Lib Dem MPs that the government had censored the Public Health England report to leave out comments from organisations and individuals who had contributed to the review.
According to the Health Service Journal, one of the responses, from the Muslim Council of Britain, called on Public Health England to look into “specific measures to tackle the culture of discrimination and racism” in the NHS.
Labour MP Dawn Butler accused the government of engaging in a “whitewash”.
Ms Badenoch said it was never the government’s plan to publish these responses – and she would be working with the government’s Race Disparity Unit to come up with recommendations.
She said the Public Health England report did not cover factors such as housing density, underlying health conditions or the occupations of those who have died, which she said “may well go some way to explain the gaps”.
Work is also under way to find out why an initial report by Public Health Scotland, found no racial disparity in coronavirus deaths in Scotland, she told MPs.