Are minority ethnic groups more susceptible to COVID-19?

  • Niedzwiedz CL & al.
  • BMC Med
  • 29 May 2020

  • curated by Dawn O'Shea
  • UK Medical News
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Minority ethnic groups in England, particularly black and South Asian people, may be at increased risk of testing positive for COVID-19, compared with people from white British backgrounds, according to a study published in BMC Medicine.

The study analysed data on 392,116 participants in the UK Biobank, linked to results of COVID-19 tests conducted in England between 16 March 2020 and 3 May 2020. Of participants, 348,735 were white British, 7323 were South Asian and 6395 were from black ethnic backgrounds.

The authors found that, compared with white British participants, the risks of testing positive were largest in black and South Asian minority groups (3.35 and 2.42 times more likely to test positive, respectively). Participants of Pakistani ethnicity had the highest risk in the South Asian group (3.24 times more likely). Ethnic minorities were more likely to be diagnosed in a hospital setting, suggesting more severe disease. 

Differences in pre-existing health, behavioural risk factors, country of birth or socioeconomic status did not fully explain the differences in infection risk.

Living in a disadvantaged area was associated with a higher risk of testing positive (most disadvantaged were 2.19 times more likely to test positive than the least disadvantaged) as was having the lowest level of education (2.00 times more likely to test positive compared with the highest level of education).

The study authors call for an immediate policy response to ensure that the health system is responsive to the needs of ethnic minority groups. This should include ensuring that health and care workers, who often are from minority ethnic populations, have access to the necessary protective personal equipment. Timely communication of guidelines to reduce the risk of being exposed to the virus in a range of languages should also be considered, they say.