Ethnic minorities in the U.K. are far more likely to fall ill and die from COVID-19, the government said Tuesday, reinforcing months of reports from media, think tanks and healthcare officials that the impact on the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community in Britain has been disproportionate.
The release of the report on Tuesday afternoon, followed by a pledge that Health Secretary Matt Hancock will face questions in Parliament on Tuesday, came amid some confusion and public outcry on when the report, which was commission for release by the end of May, would ever see the light of the day.
Recent reports in the British press suggested the government was trying to delay the report to avoid stoking racial tensions. The killing in America of George Floyd has triggered street protests in cities the world over, including the U.K. The government denied this was the case.
The report comes at a tense time for the U.K. Protests have also highlighted racism against black Britons, including the death of ticket officer Belly Mujinga from COVID-19 in April after she was spat on by a man who said he had the virus, alongside the well-documented toll COVID-19 was taking on the BAME community as a whole.
Reversed death rates
The report, which also covered age, gender, and geographic location, affirmed previous studies, saying that the pandemic had effectively reversed death rates for Black and Asian patients and white ones. In the years before the pandemic, white patients had a higher death rate than BAME patients. The opposite is now the case, Public Health England said, characterizing the impact as “disproportionate.”
The overall data “confirms that the impact of COVID-19 has replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them,” the report concludes.
Taking only age into account—the BAME population is on average younger than the UK population as a whole—black men were 4.2 times more likely to die from the virus than white men, for example.
The disparity was largely explained by a range of social and economic factors, the report said, including a higher proportion of BAME people living in cities, in overcrowded housing and deprived areas, holding jobs that have greater exposure to the virus, lower access to regular healthcare, and more underlying conditions.
However, even with those additional factors considered, there were still disparities, with people of Bangladeshi background more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white people, and other non-white ethnicities between 10% and 50% more likely to die as a result of the virus.
The report’s delay highlights a growing source of frustration in the U.K., as evidence has emerged time and again—including from other government reports—of the disproportionate risk to the BAME community from COVID-19, a deep disparity that is also evident in the U.S. The report also affirmed that more than a third of the patients in critical care due to the virus were BAME, despite the community making up only 15% of the total population, a figure first reported in early April by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre.
Further studies by the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, the think-tank Fiscal Studies, and Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine have also found that people with a BAME background are more likely to become critically ill from COVID-19.
The impact has been dramatic in fields where BAME workers are overrepresented—including healthcare. While about 21% of the 1.2 million people employed by the U.K.’s National Health Service were of BAME background as of March 2019, more than 60% of deaths of the healthcare workers who have died after contracting COVID-19 are BAME, according to separate investigations conducted by the Guardian newspaper and Health Service Journal over April and May.
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