Extra Risk for Ethnic Minorities from COVID-19 'Confirmed'

Peter Russell

June 02, 2020

A report into which groups of people had a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 found that people from ethnic minority backgrounds were "disproportionately" more likely to die from the disease.

The report by Public Health England (PHE) showed that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people with a white British background

People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black ethnicity had between 10% and 50% higher risk of death when compared to white British people, it said.

The Government had come under mounting criticism for failing to live up to a pledge to publish the report by mid-May.

Reports suggested that it was reluctant to highlight a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds because of concerns around "current global events".

Did the Government Delay the Findings?

News reports suggested that the findings may have been delayed because of fears they would resonate badly at a time of racial tensions in the US, caused by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis in the US at the end of last month.

It led to Labour's leader, Sir Keir Starmer, tweeting that the Government needed to stop any "excuses", publish the report, and take action to stop more lives being lost from COVID-19.

The Department of Health and Social Security denied there had been a delay in publishing the findings and that it was "not true to say this has been delayed due to global events". 

Shortly afterwards, the report, led by Prof Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England (PHE), was published.

Echoing racial tensions in the US, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, quoting a popular slogan, said in the Commons: "Black Lives Matter, Mr Speaker, but it is surely a call to action that black, Asian, and minority ethnic people are more likely to die from COVID, are more likely to be admitted to intensive care, from COVID."

'Huge Disparities' in Health

Matt Hancock, England's Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, acknowledged that people were "understandably angry about injustices" and that the pandemic had "exposed huge disparities in the health of our nation".

He said it was a situation he was "determined to understand in full, and take action to address".

Mr Hancock said the report showed that age and being male were the biggest risk factors. "Working age men are twice as likely to die as working age women," he told MPs.

However, aside from age and sex, people in BAME cohorts were substantially more at risk.

The analysis did not account for the effect of occupation, comorbidities, or obesity which could greatly reduce the disparity in death rates compared to other groups of people, the report said.

The Royal College of Physicians said the findings showed disturbing evidence that the effects of COVID-19 were having a disproportionate effect across the country. Its president, Prof Andrew Goddard, said: "I know these findings will cause particular concern among my colleagues in the NHS and social care who are at increased risk from COVID-19. 

"It is vital that employers are listening to staff, understanding their concerns, and undertaking risk assessments."

He called for employers to undertake a risk assessment for staff within the next 2 weeks.


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