Ethnic minorities in England more likely to die of COVID-19: report

It is unclear why ethnicity increases someone’s risk | Pool photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

Black and Asian ethnic groups had the highest death rates, according to Public Health England.

Death rates from COVID-19 in England were higher among those with ethnic minority backgrounds than for others, according to a report by Public Health England published Tuesday.

“An analysis of survival among confirmed COVID-19 cases and using more detailed ethnic groups shows that after accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region, people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity,” the report said.

Meanwhile, risk of death for people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other Black ethnicity was between 10 and 50 percent higher when compared to White British.

However, it is less clear why ethnicity increases someone’s risk. The analysis of ethnicity and COVID-19 risk did not take into account the impact of other known risk factors such as occupation or obesity.

The report, commissioned by the government, looked at a range of demographic and health factors and their relationship with risks of getting COVID-19, and risks of dying from the disease.

The impact of aspects like old age and certain health conditions on COVID-19 patients has been relatively well understood by scientists. But according to the report, the link between ethnicity and morbidity is more complex, stemming from various reasons such as an increased infection risk due to occupation patterns and geographic distribution as well as pre-existing conditions — such as cardiovascular diseases — being more prevalent among certain ethnic groups.

Such observations tend to support the conclusion that “once age, sex, obesity and comorbidities are taken into account, there is no difference in the likelihood of being admitted to intensive care or of dying between ethnic groups,” suggesting that it’s their living and health conditions that put some ethnic minorities at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on health inequalities in the U.K., with public health experts hoping the crisis will prompt the government to rethink its approach.

“This pandemic has exposed huge disparities in the health of our nation,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs on Tuesday following the report’s publication. “It is very clear that some people are significantly more vulnerable to COVID-19 and this is something I’m determined to understand in full and take action to address.”

Shedding more light on the link between obesity and bad outcomes for COVID-19 patients will be essential, Public Health England also said in its report, adding that 28 percent of English adults were obese in 2018, while 3 percent were “morbidly obese.”

The report added that 44.5 percent of death certificates that mentioned COVID-19 also mentioned cardiovascular disease and 21.5 percent mentioned diabetes.

Obesity has long been known to increase the likelihood of conditions like cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, which in turn have been linked to higher mortality rates among those ill with COVID-19.

According to government figures published last month, at 73.6 percent, Black British adults were most likely to be overweight or obese in the U.K. in 2019, but the White British majority came in second at 63.3 percent. Certain ethnic minorities performed better, particularly the Chinese at 35.3 percent.

Charlie Cooper contributed reporting.

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