Greater risk of infection behind high ethnic minority deaths during Covid pandemic, study finds

A volunteer writes on London’s Covid memorial wall (File picture)  (PA Wire)
A volunteer writes on London’s Covid memorial wall (File picture) (PA Wire)

Ethnic minority groups experienced higher rates of severe illness and death from Covid because of their greater risk of becoming infected, a major study has concluded.

Researchers at the University of Manchester found that high transmission of the virus was the most significant factor behind increased mortality in ethnic minority communities.

Previous studies on the subject have not reached a conclusion over whether higher fatalities were due to higher infection risk, poorer prognosis once infected, or both.

Researchers analysed results from 77 research studies, covering 200 million people from around the world.

The study found that South Asian people were three times more likely to test positive for Covid than white people, while Black people were 1.8 times more likely, and Mixed and Other ethnic groups were each 1.3 times more likely.

Black people were also found to be 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital than white people, while Hispanic people were 1.3 times more likely.

The risk of needing intensive care was also higher: South Asian, East Asian, Indigenous, Hispanic and Black groups all had more than triple the risk of white groups.

Researchers cited a number of socioeconomic reasons for the increased infection rates among ethnic minority groups, including “different patterns of employment, income and housing”.

The study noted that ethnic minority groups were “more likely to have public-facing jobs, less likely to be able to self-isolate or work from home, more likely to live in overcrowded housing and less likely to have access to open spaces”. All of these factors increase the risk of contracting Covid.

Dr Patsy Irizar, an academic at the University of Manchester and the study’s lead author, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted ethnic minority people, with the present findings demonstrating that the health inequalities earlier in the pandemic were largely driven by differences in exposure.

“Recovery responses must focus on tackling the drivers of these inequalities, including structural racism and racial discrimination.”

The findings come just days after campaigners urged the Government to make race a key part of the Government’s independent public inquiry into the pandemic.

In a letter sent to inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group and race equality think tank Runnymede called for ethnic minority communities to be “placed firmly at the centre” of the inquiry.

Figures released by Transport for London (TfL) last year also revealed that more than 100 London bus and Tube workers had died from Covid during the pandemic. The majority were people belonging to ethnic minorities, TfL said.

Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “These inequalities were already having an impact on the health and wellbeing of ethnic minority communities, which the pandemic has now exacerbated further.

“There is no simple one size fits all solution to reduce health inequalities amongst those in our black, minority and ethnic communities but it is clear that structural change is necessary.

“Reduce deprivation and much of the associated problems dissipate to an extent. This means greater support for education and employment in order to aid recovery and make progress against health inequalities.”