Black and South Asian ethnic groups in England appear to be at higher risk of being infected with coronavirus, as well as being admitted to the hospital with the disease, according to a UK study.
Researchers suggest that the higher risk appears to be partly but not wholly explained by socio-economic factors, but not underlying health conditions, which had previously been identified as a possible cause.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that some minority ethnic groups have a higher risk of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection”
Their research adds to the emerging evidence on the risk factors for Covid-19 and how it also appears to be more dangerous for those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
The new study, led by the University of Glasgow, found that black and south Asian ethnic groups had a higher risk of testing positive with novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes Covid-19.
These groups were also at a higher risk of testing positive while attending hospital, suggesting they were also at greater risk of severe disease from the virus.
The risks remained largely unchanged even when accounting for pre-existing health conditions, health-related behaviours, like smoking, and the likelihood of working for the NHS, said researchers.
However, they highlighted that socio-economic differences seemed to partly but not wholly explain ethnic differences in Covid-19.
For example, deprivation and having no qualifications were consistently associated with a higher risk of confirmed infection, said the study authors.
The researchers found that black people in England were at highest risk of having laboratory confirmed infection, more than three times more likely than white people.
South Asian groups also had a higher risk of testing positive, with Pakistani groups having the highest risk among them.
Specifically, they found that, compared to people from white British backgrounds, people from black and South Asian minority groups were 3.4 and 2.4 times more likely to test positive, respectively.
In addition, people of Pakistani ethnicity were 3.2 times more likely to test positive.
“Our findings suggest that black and south Asian people experience higher risks of needing to attend hospital for Covid-19”
Age, male sex and pre-existing medical conditions have already been established as predictors of adverse Covid-19 outcomes, but the role of social factors and ethnicity is less well understood so far.
Based on their new findings, the Glasgow researchers and their colleagues at Public Health Scotland suggest that more work urgently needs done to better understand and address these elevated risks.
But an immediate policy response was also needed to ensure that the health system is responsive to the needs of ethnic minority groups, according to the study authors.
This should include ensuring that health and care workers, who often are from minority ethnic populations, have access to the necessary protective personal equipment.
Timely communication of guidelines to reduce the risk of being exposed to the virus in a range of languages should also be considered, they said.
Senior study author Dr Vittal Katikireddi said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that some minority ethnic groups have a higher risk of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, which is only partly accounted for by differences in socio-economic conditions and underlying health conditions.
“Our findings suggest that black and south Asian people experience higher risks of needing to attend hospital for Covid-19,” he added.
“We must now urgently try and understand what is causing these differences in risk, so that we can address them and improve outcomes for patients.”
The team analysed data on 392,116 participants in the UK Biobank study, a large long-term study investigating the contribution of genes and the environment to the development of disease.
The data, including information on social and demographic, and health and behavioural risk factors, was linked to results of Covid-19 tests conducted in England between 16 March and 3 May.
“We must now urgently try and understand what is causing these differences in risk, so that we can address them and improve outcomes for patients”
Out of the total number of participants whose data were analysed, 348,735 were white British, 7,323 were South Asian and 6,395 were from black ethnic backgrounds.
In addition, 2,658 participants had been tested for coronavirus and 948 had at least one positive test. Out of those, 726 received a positive test in a hospital setting, suggesting more severe illness.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office.
Other emerging research evidence has already highlighted being from a BAME background as being among the risk factors for developing severe Covid-19 or dying from it.
In addition, concern has focused on the high mortality rate among BAME health and care staff, compared to white colleagues, with particular warnings they may have been exposed to greater risk.
Tracking of Covid-19 deaths by the media, including Nursing Times, has indicated that more BAME people have died during the coronavirus pandemic than people from other backgrounds.
These concerns led ministers to instruct Public Health England to investigate the health inequalities faced by BAME people during the pandemic, with its findings expected to be published imminently.
Meanwhile, it was confirmed yesterday that a new national centre is to be set up to specifically investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on patient health and the NHS workforce.
NHS England and the NHS Confederation said the NHS Race and Health Observatory will identify and tackle the challenges facing people from BAME backgrounds.
The creation of the centre comes amid “significant concerns” about the “particular impact” of Covid-19 on people from BAME backgrounds, noted NHS England.