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News > United Kingdom

UK: Black People Four Times More Likely to Die From COVID-19

  • Statistics have shown the virus has had a disproportionate impact on black and ethnic minority communities.

    Statistics have shown the virus has had a disproportionate impact on black and ethnic minority communities. | Photo: AFP

Published 7 May 2020

The figures, covering deaths from March 2nd to April 10, are the first official snapshot of the way COVID-19 has affected different ethnic groups in England and Wales.


Black people are more than four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people, according to stark official figures exposing a dramatic divergence in the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in England and Wales, The Guardian reported Thursday.

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The Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that the difference in the virus’s impact was caused not only by pre-existing differences in communities ’wealth, health, education, and living arrangements.

It discovered that after taking into account age, measures of self-reported health and disability, and other socio-demographic characteristics, black people were still almost twice as likely as white people to die a COVID-19-related death.

The Guardian research last month confirmed suspicions that minority groups faced the most significant risk from the coronavirus and showed that areas with high ethnic minority populations in England and Wales tended to have higher mortality rates in the pandemic.

According to ONS, it was found that Bangladeshi and Pakistani men were 1.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white men, and women of the same nationalities were 1,6 times more likely to die from the virus than white women.

The figures show that the difference that determines mortality towards the COVID-19 is partly the result of a socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances (not yet defined) which place the minority populations in England who are also partly migrants at a significant difficulty and lack of protection.

Zubaida Haque, the deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, described the findings as alarming. “We cannot ignore how important racial discrimination and racial inequalities, for example, in housing, are, even among poorer socio-economic groups,” she said. “These factors are important but are not taken into account in most statistical modeling of COVID-19 risk factors.”

While only 2 percent of white British households experienced overcrowding from 2014 to 2017, 30 percent of Bangladeshi families, 16 percent of Pakistani households, and 12 percent of black households experienced this, according to a study of the English Housing Survey.

These groups are more likely to work in frontline roles in the National Health Service (NHS) in England: nearly 21 percent of staff are from ethnic minorities, compared with about 14 percent of the population of England and Wales. Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities have been shown to face higher levels of unemployment and child poverty than white groups.

Helen Barnard, the acting director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the findings were “a stark reminder that although we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.”

“With the Bank of England now forecasting the deepest recession on record, we must ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in after the virus passes,” Barnard said. “It doesn’t have to be like this. As a society that prides itself on justice and compassion, we can and must do better.”

To try to understand how much of the difference in COVID-19 morbidity was to do purely with ethnicity, the statisticians adjusted for age as well as region, rural and urban classification, area deprivation, household composition, socio-economic position, a highest qualification held, household tenure, and health or disability as recorded in the 2011 census.

“The fully adjusted results show differences in risk between ethnic groups that are specific to those ethnic groups and are not caused by any of the factors listed on which members of the groups might differ,” the ONS highlighted.

The ONS also recognized that differences in the risk of dying from COVID-19 could be due to factors not included in its model.

Some groups may be over-represented in public-facing occupations and could be more likely to be infected by COVID-19. About 12.8 percent of workers from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds work in public-facing transport jobs such as bus, coach and taxi driving, compared with 3.5 percent of white people. The ONS said it plans to conduct further work to identify occupations that are particularly at risk.

Meanwhile, Wasim Hanif, a professor of diabetes and endocrinology at University Hospital Birmingham, said the ONS data was not robust enough to give the full reasons for the difference in the likelihood of dying from COVID-19.

The research accounts for health problems reported by people who filled in the 2011 census. Still, Hanif said differences in the extent of other underlying diseases in different ethnic groups in Britain – so-called co-morbidities – which have not been accounted for by the ONS, may be significant.

For example, in the U.K., people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent are three to four times more likely to get diabetes earlier in life than white people, and the ratio is between two and three for black and Indian-origin people, he said.

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