Coronavirus killing Black Britons at twice the rate as Whites; South Asians second-most at risk in UK

Black people in England and Wales are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as White people, even accounting for differences in class and in some underlying health measures, according to official figures released Thursday, laying bare an extraordinary gap in the toll of the coronavirus

The New York Times May 08, 2020 10:05:20 IST
Coronavirus killing Black Britons at twice the rate as Whites; South Asians second-most at risk in UK

London: Black people in England and Wales are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as White people, even accounting for differences in class and in some underlying health measures, according to official figures released Thursday, laying bare an extraordinary gap in the toll of the coronavirus .

The analysis, conducted by Britain’s Office of National Statistics, found that long-standing differences in wealth, education, living arrangements and self-reported health could explain a portion of the outsize impact of the virus on racial and ethnic minorities.

But not all of it. The number of Black and South Asian people working in public-facing jobs and living with conditions that increase vulnerability to the coronavirus , like obesity, hypertension and diabetes, may account for other parts of the elevated risk, researchers said.

“The underlying health and social disparities that drive inequality in health and life expectancy have been there all along, and this virus has just laid them bare,” said Dr Riyaz Patel, an associate professor of cardiology at University College London. “This pandemic has not been the great leveller. It’s been the great magnifier, as it were.”

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Cyclists on the Mall in London, where some major thoroughfares have been given over to bicycles. By Andrew Testa © 2020 The New York Times

A decade of austerity under successive Conservative-led governments in Britain had already contributed to shrinking life expectancy in deprived communities and to expanding health inequality, according to a major report released in February by the Institute of Health Equity at University College London.

More than 30,000 people in Britain have died from the coronavirus , among the worst death tolls in Europe.

As the outsize toll of the virus on Black and South Asian people has emerged in recent weeks, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Conservative, has been forced to respond.

Public Health England said it would review how ethnicity, among other factors, figures into people’s risk from the coronavirus .

Responding to the deaths of a number of Black, Asian and ethnic minority doctors, the National Health Service issued guidelines telling hospitals to assess the vulnerability of front-line workers and potentially reassign some to other jobs.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said Monday, “We recognise that there has been a disproportionately high number of people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds who have passed away, especially among care workers and those in the NHS.”

Among the major unanswered questions is whether people from racial and ethnic minority groups are catching the virus at higher rates or, once they catch it, are suffering more serious effects, said Keith Neal, an emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham.

“If they’re catching it twice as often, that’s a different answer to ‘they’re dying twice as often,’” Neal said.

The analysis from the Office of National Statistics went beyond previous studies in Britain in examining the fate not only of hospital patients but also of people in nursing homes and elsewhere who died from the virus.

After accounting for limited class and health data, people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicities were nearly twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as White people.

People of Indian and mixed ethnicities also had an elevated risk of death, the analysis found. The only group with a lower risk of death than their White counterparts, accounting for socioeconomic differences, was Chinese women.

The researchers accounted for a range of factors that could be associated with people’s risk from the virus. Among them were crowding in households, urban-rural divides, income and education.

Nearly one-third of Bangladeshi households, one-sixth of Pakistani households and one-eighth of Black households experienced overcrowding from 2014 to 2017, a risk factor for spreading the coronavirus . Only two percent of White British households experienced the same, according to a study of the English Housing Survey.

Black people and ethnic minorities are also more likely to live in cities, where the virus arrived first in Britain and spread much more quickly.

The researchers also adjusted for a rough measure of self-reported health from the 2011 census and the presence of disability. That helped account for preexisting health disparities, analysts said, but not necessarily the higher prevalence among minorities of specific conditions that raise the risk from the virus.

Without accounting for class or health differences, Black people were four times as likely to die from the coronavirus as White people in England and Wales, the Office of National Statistics found.

Patel questioned whether successive British governments had done enough over the long term to improve the health of vulnerable groups and help them withstand a pandemic.

“Health inequality has increased over the last decade or more, rather than decreased,” he said. He pointed to the February report about health inequities showing that, for part of the period from 2010 to 2020, “life expectancy actually fell in the most deprived communities outside London for women and in some regions for men.”

Some lawmakers demanded action in response to the analysis Thursday.

“Appalling,” said David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker. “It is urgent the causes of this disproportionality are investigated. Action must be taken to protect Black men and women — as well as people from all backgrounds — from the virus.”

Benjamin Mueller c.2020 The New York Times Company

Updated Date:

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