The coronavirus (Covid-19) global pandemic has spread to 190 countries with 420,000 deaths reported worldwide. The largest proportion of Covid-19 deaths are currently seen in the US and the UK with 100,000 and 41,000 deaths reported respectively. Understanding why these countries have reported the largest number of deaths due to Covid-19 is important to highlight the factors that have made them more vulnerable to the negative effects of the coronavirus.
Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and American Public Media research lab shows that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups in the US and UK are more likely to die from Covid-19 in comparison to their white counterparts. It is essential that the reasons why BAME individuals are at increased risk of death due to Covid-19 should be investigated further in these countries so that they can be protected accordingly.
GlobalData epidemiologists have shown the death rates due to Covid-19 across different ethnic groups in the UK and the US (Figure 1). Both countries reported that those of black ethnicity have the highest death rate due to Covid-19 with 62 deaths per 100,000 black population reported in the US and 41 deaths per 100,000 black population reported in the UK.
Both countries have also reported that those of white ethnicity have the lowest death rate due to Covid-19 with 26 deaths per 100,000 white population reported in the US and 22 deaths per 100,000 white population reported in the UK. Those of Latino ethnicity had the second-highest Covid-19 death rate in the US followed by those of Asian ethnicity. In the UK, the Asian population reported the second-highest death rate due to Covid-19. It is critical to understand why the UK and the US have shown a similar pattern of minority ethnic groups being at higher risk of death due to Covid-19 to reduce the negative impact of Covid-19 in these communities.
There are multiple factors that could cause this disparity in Covid-19 related deaths across ethnic groups. Those in minority ethnic groups have increased incidence of certain underlying health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, which increase the risk of severe Covid-19. Minority ethnic groups are also more likely to experience poverty and reside in crowded living environments where the virus can spread more easily. However, after adjusting for deprivation and underlying health conditions, a study conducted at Oxford University still found BAME individuals are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than white individuals.
Other factors that could influence increased Covid-19 death rates in BAME individuals include health inequalities, cultural differences, behavioural differences, genetic differences, differences in socioeconomic status and differences in job roles. This complex issue is very likely due to a combination of factors and an urgent inquiry is necessary to help understand this further. Protecting BAME healthcare workers should be a key public health focus, with current figures showing that two-thirds of healthcare workers who have died from Covid-19 in the UK were from BAME backgrounds despite only making up 20% of the workforce.
Although there is currently insufficient data to determine the exact mechanism between ethnicity and increased Covid-19 death rates, it is important that BAME people, particularly those of black ethnicity, should be considered a risk group for increased death due to Covid-19 in the UK and the US. This will help guide a more appropriate public health response to Covid-19 both at a community and national level.
Figure 1: Death Rate Due to Covid-19 (per 100,000 Population of Ethnic Group) by Ethnic Group in the UK and the US, Men and Women, All Ages, 2020