May 7, 2020 / 9:01 AM / 18 days ago

Black and some other ethnic groups more at risk from COVID-19, Britain says

LONDON (Reuters) - Black people and men of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin are nearly twice as likely to die from the COVID-19 disease than whites, even when adjusting data for deprivation, a new British report said on Thursday.

The statistics chimed with reports in other Western nations, from Finland to the United States, that non-white ethnic groups have been worse hit by the new coronavirus which has killed nearly 263,000 people worldwide.

"The risk of death involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) among some ethnic groups is significantly higher than that of those of white ethnicity," the government's Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a new report. (here)

Scientists studying the novel coronavirus have noted striking differences in death rates based on age, sex and ethnicity, and hope genetics may hold clues for medicines or a vaccine. But there are still vast holes in knowledge.

Without adjusting for factors including poverty, education and health, Britain’s ONS found that black males were 4.2 times more likely to succumb to a COVID-19-related death and black females were 4.3 times more likely than white counterparts.

The adjusted model showed that black people were 1.9 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the white ethnic group.

Males of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicity were 1.8 times more likely to die, and females from those groups 1.6 times, according to the adjusted model. But individuals from the Chinese and mixed ethnic group have similar risks to whites.

“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 report added.

INVESTIGATION URGED

Politicians were appalled.

David Lammy, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, urged an investigation, while London mayor Sadiq Khan - of Pakistani origin - said ethnicity should be recorded on death certificates to shed more light.

Britain has the world’s second highest coronavirus death toll, after the United States, with more than 32,000 fatalities.

“People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are being disproportionately affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 and we need urgent action to reveal the true extent of this inequality,” Khan said.

Occupation may be a factor in the disproportionate deaths.

Non-white workers account for more than a fifth of National Health Service (NHS) employees - a higher proportion than in the labour force. And more than two in every ten black African women of working age are employed in health and social care.

British health officials have already made research into the ethnic breakdown of deaths a priority.

“We’re aware that this virus has sadly appeared to have a disproportionate effect on people from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds,” Britain’s health ministry said in a statement reacting to the ONS data.

“It is critical we find out which groups are most at risk so we can take the right steps to protect them and minimise their risk.”

The statement added that the Public Health England authority had been commissioned to research the different factors that influence the effects of the virus.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kylie MacLellan, Michael Holden and Andrew Cawthorne

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