BAME coronavirus patients up to twice as likely to die from coronavirus, according to Public Health England report

Dominic Penna
Two ampules of Ebola drug Remdesivir are pictured during a news conference at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, Germany - REUTERS
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People from BAME backgrounds are up to twice as likely to die from coronavirus, an official report has suggested, as a government public health advisor said the disparity might not necessarily be linked to ethnicity. 

Researchers found that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people of white British ethnicity, while people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, other Asian, Caribbean and black ethnicity had between 10 per cent and 50 per cent higher risk of death.

Professor John Newton on Tuesday night urged people not to jump to conclusions about the report and said more work is needed to understand why the differences between white and BAME communities existed. "It is not necessarily because of their ethnicity, it may be related to their occupation or other reasons why they might be at higher levels of exposure," he told the Downing Street press conference.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the report and said: “No mention of structural inequalities. No recommendations. No answers. No action. Coronavirus thrives on inequality. Inequality thrives on inaction. The Government must act now to protect BAME communities.”

Asked whether he plans to publish recommendations, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Absolutely, we need to go through the next stage of work to make sure that we take into account all of the different considerations.”

Prof Newton said: “There are recommendations there but they’re perhaps more to do with the fact that these are important data for people to be aware of... Even understanding the levels of risk associated with different factors is itself important in designing programmes to protect people.”

Prof Newton added: "Normally a report like this would take us a good six months, so we have actually produced this level of analysis in a relatively short time.

"We need to get the report widely disseminated and widely discussed before deciding exactly what needs to be done. But clearly there are some fairly obvious conclusions that can be drawn, even from the data we have."

The PHE report said its findings confirm "the impact of Covid-19 has replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them".

It found that the highest death rates of confirmed cases per 100,000 population were among people in "other" ethnic groups (234 females and 427 males) followed by people of black ethnic groups (119 females and 257 males) and Asian ethnic groups (78 females and 163 males). In comparison, the death rates of confirmed cases in white people was 36 per 100,000 females and 70 per 100,000 males.

However, researchers suggested the relationship between ethnicity and health is complex and likely to be the result of a combination of factors - including that BAME communities are likely to be at increased risk of acquiring the infection because they are more likely to live in urban areas, in overcrowded households, in deprived areas, and have jobs that expose them to higher risk.

Following an analysis of more than 10,000 patients with Covid-19 admitted to intensive care in UK hospitals, researchers said that the evidence “suggests that once age, sex, obesity and comorbidities are taken into account, there is no difference in the likelihood of being admitted to intensive care or of dying between ethnic groups”.

The report was released following allegations that the Department for Health and Social Care was delaying its publication due to concerns of potential civil unrest linked to global anger over the death of African-American George Floyd. 

The 46-year-old died of asphyxiation while being restrained by police officers, and his death has triggered mass protests. On Tuesday, an official post-mortem examination declared his death a homicide.

Helen Barnard, Acting Director, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, described the findings as “shocking but not surprising”.

“BAME communities and areas of high deprivation are at much greater risk from coronavirus,” she said. “This just isn’t right: someone's life chances should not be so profoundly affected by the colour of their skin, where they live or how much money their family has.

“People from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and those who live in more deprived areas are more likely to work in public-facing roles, increasing their risk of catching Covid-19. 

“They are also more likely to live in overcrowded homes, which increases the risk for their families too.

“PHE has warned that failure to address these inequalities could seriously impede efforts to control the spread of the virus.”

The highest diagnosis rate per 100,000 population was in black ethnic groups (486 in females and 649 in males) and the lowest in white ethnic groups (220 in females and 224 in males).