Coronavirus Killing Black Britons at Twice the Rate as Whites

Coronavirus Killing Black Britons at Twice the Rate as Whites

Coronavirus Killing Black Britons at Twice the Rate as Whites

Coronavirus Killing Black Britons at Twice the Rate as Whites

LONDON — Black people in England and Wales are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as white people, even accounting for differences in class and in some underlying health measures, according to official figures released on Thursday, laying bare an extraordinary gap in the toll of the coronavirus.

The analysis, conducted by Britain’s Office of National Statistics, found that longstanding differences in wealth, education, living arrangements and self-reported health could explain a portion of the outsized impact of the virus on racial and ethnic minorities.

But not all of it. The number of black and South Asian people working in public-facing jobs and living with conditions that increase vulnerability to the coronavirus, like obesity, hypertension and diabetes, may account for other parts of the elevated risk, researchers said.

“The underlying health and social disparities that drive inequality in health and life expectancy have been there all along, and this virus has just laid them bare,” said Dr. Riyaz Patel, an associate professor of cardiology at University College London. “This pandemic has not been the great leveler. It’s been the great magnifier, as it were.”

More than 30,000 people in Britain have died from the coronavirus, among the worst death tolls in Europe.

As the outsized toll of the virus on black and South Asian people has emerged in recent weeks, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Conservative, has been forced to respond.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said on Monday: “We recognize that there has been a disproportionately high number of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds who have passed away, especially among care workers and those in the N.H.S.”

Among the major unanswered questions is whether people from racial and ethnic minority groups are catching the virus at higher rates or, once they catch it, are suffering more serious effects, said Keith Neal, an emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham.

“If they’re catching it twice as often, that’s a different answer to ‘they’re dying twice as often,’” Professor Neal said.

The analysis from the Office of National Statistics went beyond previous studies in Britain in examining the fate not only of hospital patients, but also of people in nursing homes and elsewhere who died from the virus.

After accounting for limited class and health data, people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicities were nearly twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as white people.

People of Indian and mixed ethnicities also had an elevated risk of death, the analysis found. The only group with a lower risk of death than their white counterparts, accounting for socio-economic differences, was Chinese women.

The researchers accounted for a range of factors that could be associated with people’s risk from the virus. Among them were crowding in households, urban-rural divides, income and education.

Nearly a third of Bangladeshi households, a sixth of Pakistani households and an eighth of black households experienced overcrowding from 2014 to 2017, a risk factor for spreading the coronavirus. Only 2 percent of white British households experienced the same, according to a study of the English Housing Survey.

Black people and ethnic minorities are also more likely to live in cities, where the virus arrived first in Britain and spread much more quickly.

The researchers also adjusted for a rough measure of self-reported health from the 2011 census and the presence of disability. That helped account for pre-existing health disparities, analysts said, but not necessarily the higher prevalence among minorities of specific conditions that raise the risk from the virus.

Without accounting for class or health differences, black people were four times as likely to die from the coronavirus as white people in England and Wales, the Office of National Statistics found.

Dr. Patel questioned whether successive British governments had done enough over the long term to improve the health of vulnerable groups and help them withstand a pandemic.

“Health inequality has increased over the last decade or more, rather than decreased,” he said. He pointed to the February report about health inequities showing that, for part of the period from 2010 to 2020, “life expectancy actually fell in the most deprived communities outside London for women and in some regions for men.”

Some lawmakers demanded action in response to the analysis on Thursday.

“Appalling,” said David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker. “It is urgent the causes of this disproportionality are investigated. Action must be taken to protect black men and women — as well as people from all backgrounds — from the virus.”




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