There has been concern that COVID-19 is having an excessive impact on minority ethnic communities in countries such as the UK and US.

Recent data from the UK has provided insight into the groups who are at greatest risk. The report from Public Health England confirms that people of black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups are at higher risk from COVID-19, compared to white people in England.

Black people were the most likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, while people from Bangladeshi backgrounds had the highest risk of death. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and other black ethnicity had a higher risk of death compared to white people.

The report also found that people living in more deprived and urban areas, people with conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and people with public-facing jobs including taxi drivers, security guards and nurses, were more likely to be severely affected. These factors could contribute to some of the discrepancies seen between ethnic groups.

Further work is needed to identify how these inequalities can be addressed.

Where did the story come from?

Most news media outlets in the UK reported on the study from Public Health England, including The Guardian and BBC News. There has also been media coverage of the disparities in other countries.

What is the basis for the claim?

The report used data collected on people testing positive for COVID-19 up to 13 May (most tests were done in hospital) and on deaths from COVID-19 from a number of sources.

After taking age into account, the report found that:

  • The group most likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 were people from black ethnic groups (486 cases per 100,000 women and 649 per 100,000 men). The group least likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 were white people (220 cases per 100,000 women and 224 per 100,000 men)
  • When looking at people with confirmed COVID-19, people of Bangladeshi ethnic background were twice as likely to die from it as white people, after taking account of sex, age and the area and level of deprivation of where they lived. The risk was also higher for people from other Asian and black ethnic groups, ranging from 10% to 50% higher than that for the white population.

In other parts of the report, people working as nursing auxiliaries, taxi drivers and security guards were found to be at increased risk. People with conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes are already known to be at increased risk. People from black and Asian ethnic backgrounds may be more likely to have these at-risk jobs and medical conditions, and this could be contributing to the differences seen.

What do trusted sources say?

Public Health England concludes that their report “confirms that the impact of COVID-19 has replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them.” They say that the results “will help in formulating the future public health response to [the pandemic]”.

In a statement via the Science Media Centre, Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, said: ‘This is a comprehensive review of the risk factors associated with COVID cases, severity and mortality.  It has summarised published studies and conducted descriptive analysis using surveillance data.  The findings are in agreement with what has been published previously. However, the report does not make any recommendations on how to reduce these disparities.’

Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser.

Citation

  1. Public Health England. COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes. 2 June 2020. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-review-of-disparities-in-risks-and-outcomes (Accessed 12 June 2020).

Reading list

  1. Science Media Centre. Expert reaction to PHE review of disparities in risks and outcomes in COVID-19. https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-phe-review-of-disparities-in-risks-and-outcomes-in-covid-19/ (Accessed 12 June 2020).