People in the UK’s south Asian communities were more likely to test positive for Covid, become severely ill and die than any other minority ethnic group in the country’s second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study.
During the first wave from February to September 2020, the paper in the Lancet medical journal found, all minority ethnic groups had a higher risk than the white community of testing positive for Covid, ending up in hospital, being admitted to intensive care, and dying, after accounting for any underlying health conditions. But in the second wave, from September to December 2020, minority ethnic groups did better – except for the south Asian communities.
“Despite the improvements seen in most minority ethnic groups in the second wave compared to the first, it’s concerning to see that the disparity widened among south Asian groups,” said the lead author, Dr Rohini Mathur of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“This highlights an urgent need to find effective prevention measures that fit with the needs of the UK’s ethnically diverse population.”
The authors say the higher risk of testing positive was linked to the larger number of people in south Asian households – a finding supported by earlier work from the Office for National Statistics. The 2011 census showed 21% of south Asian groups lived in multigenerational households, compared with 7% of white groups.
But other factors may also have played a part, such as body weight, blood pressure and underlying health conditions.
Mathur said minority ethnic groups were disproportionately affected by socio-economic deprivation, such as living in deprived areas, working in frontline jobs, and having poorer access to healthcare. But that was not the whole story.
“Our study indicates that even after accounting for many of these factors, the risk for testing positive, hospitalisation, ICU admission and death was still higher in minority ethnic groups compared with white people in England,” she said.
“To improve Covid-19 outcomes, we urgently need to tackle the wider disadvantage and structural racism faced by these communities, as well as improving access to care and reducing transmission.”
There were many benefits to multigenerational living, she said. “Such households and extended communities also offer valuable informal care networks, and facilitate engagement with health and community services.”
But those communities must be encouraged to be vaccinated. “In light of emerging evidence that minority ethnic groups are less likely to take up the Covid-19 vaccine, co-designing culturally competent and non-stigmatising engagement strategies with these communities is increasingly important,” she said.