New figures out from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics confirm the depth of inequality in coronavirus related deaths: black men and women are four times more likely to die after contracting coronavirus than white people, while South Asian men and women are also at a significantly higher risk.
Members of the clinical staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as they care for patients at … [+] POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
The ONS figures for England and Wales take into account people’s ages, where they live, prior health, and combines figures from COVID-19 deaths with the 2011 census.
The data, whether or not it is adjusted for social or medical factors, show stark differences in the risk of dying from coronavirus among different ethnic groups in the U.K. This suggests other unexplained factors, such as racial discrimination, underlying diseases, and likeliness to work in frontline and public facing roles, could be at play.
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Unadjusted models show that black women were 4.3 times more likely than white people to die after contracting the virus, while black men were 4.2 times more likely to die a COVID-related death than white men and women.
But even when adjusted for the above factors, black men and women are shown to be 1.9 times more likely to die a COVID-related death, than white people.
There’s also a significantly higher risk among people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Indian, and Mixed ethnicities, the ONS found. Adjusted models show Bangladeshi and Pakistani men are 1.8 times more likely to die a COVID-related death than white men, while for women, the figure was 1.6 times more likely.
“These results show that the difference between ethnic groups in COVID-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained,” the ONS said.
Dr Zubaida Haque, deputy director of race equality think tank Runnymede Trust, said: “We cannot ignore how important racial discrimination and racial inequalities (e.g. in housing) are, even among poorer socio-economic groups. These factors are important but are not taken into account in most statistical modelling of Covid-19 risk factors.”
The ONS figures follow analysis last month by the Guardian newspaper, which found that one fifth of coronavirus patients that died in hospital in England by April 19 were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, despite making up 15% of England’s population. Reports from other parts of the world, including in Nordic countries and the U.S., raise concerns that the impact of coronavirus is more severe among minority ethnic communities.
Professor Neil Mortensen, head of the Royal College of Surgeons, has called for BAME frontline NHS workers to be removed from high-risk areas, he previously told Sky News. Two thirds of healthcare workers that have died in the U.K. after contracting coronavirus were from an ethnic minority background, according to researchers at the University of Bristol.
A study by scientists at the University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, suggested that data should be collected on occupational risk. “Other possible explanations for increased risk among BME groups relate to higher infection risk, including over-representation in ‘front-line” professions with higher exposure to infection,” the study said.
Facing pressure to account for the disproportionate deaths among black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the U.K., the government this week launched a review into how factors including ethnicity and gender impact on coronavirus deaths.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Thursday called for ethnicity to be recorded on all death certificates to “expose the disproportionate effect that COVID-19 and other illnesses are having on the capital’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities,” his office said. As it stands, ethnicity is not included.
He said: “We need to fully expose the effect it is having on our communities, have honest conversations about what is behind it, why it is happening, and work hard to tackle these problems. That’s why I’m calling for greater transparency and bringing city leaders together to see what we can do.”
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