Britons of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage are 20 per cent more likely to die if they catch coronavirus but black people have no increased risk, the biggest study of ethnic diversity in death rates has found.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh discovered that South Asians have a much greater chance of dying from the disease if they are sick enough to need hospital treatment.
Although other black, ethnic and minority groups were at greater risk of needing intensive care and ventilation, they were no more likely to die than white people.
The study found that South Asians admitted to hospital with coronavirus were on average 12 years younger than those from other ethnicities, and were more likely to have diabetes.
Around four in 10 South Asians admitted to hospital had diabetes, which accounted for around one fifth of the increased risk. The rest is likely to be a mix of social, economic and genetic factors, the researchers say.
South Asians are more likely to have people-facing jobs and often live in larger family groups. They also are on average more likely to live in socially deprived areas.
Ewen Harrison, Professor of Surgery and Data Science and Honorary Consultant Surgeon, University of Edinburgh said: “We know there are more South Asians working in front-facing occupations in health and social care and other studies have shown an increased likelihood of getting an infection in those jobs.
“Deprivation is also important. They are most likely to be from parts of the country that are poorer, and there may be a biological effect, something in your genes that makes you more likely to get the disease and die from the disease.
“There are clear policy implications. Should there be different guidelines for South Asian nurse compared to a nurse of white ethnicity? To what extent should ethnicity be part of shielding guidelines?”
A report published earlier this month by Public Health England (PHE) found that there have been 50 deaths per 100,000 white people in Britain, compared with 188 per 100,000 for black people and 120 per 100,000 for Asians.
But, with the exception of South Asians, the new data suggests that although more people from black, Asian, minority ethnic groups (Bame) are picking up the virus, meaning higher numbers are dying as a population, they are no more likely to die if they do get it.
The study was based on data from 35,000 people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in England, Wales and Scotland from February 6 to May 8, with patients follow-up until May 22.
It showed that across all ethnic groups the disease may be more severe, but it is only in South Asians where that is translated into a greater likelihood of death.
The researchers say that the government may want to consider shielding South Asians and targeting them for early intervention with preventative treatments and vaccines when they become available.
Prof Calum Semple, the chief investigator of the trial added: “It allows us to start to disentangle the contributions of underlying diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and what is really interesting, apart from the tragedy, is the size of this effect.
“There is a large effect here and we can only partially explain it.”
The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal, included 1,388 people of South Asian background (5 per cent of the total group), 266 who were East Asian (1 per cent), 1,094 who were black (4 per cent), 2,398 who were other ethnic minority (8 per cent) and 25,547 who were white (83 per cent).
The study, which has not yet been reviewed, is published on the pre-print website of The Lancet journal.