Why are a disproportionate number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds dying from Covid-19?

  • Video report by ITV News International Affairs Editor Rageh Omaar

Coronavirus does not discriminate - but some evidence has suggested it does affect some communities far more than others.

The government has announced a review into the disproportional impact Covid-19 has on ethnic minorities in the UK, including British Muslims.

One report, from the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre, has found 30 per cent of Covid-19 victims were from Black, Asian and other minority backgrounds, whilst people from these backgrounds make up just 13 per cent of the UK's population.

Nowhere has Covid-19 hit minority communities more than those working on the frontline of the NHS, where doctors and nurses have been trying to save their lives of their fellow Britons.

Those from ethnic minority backgrounds constitute two thirds of NHS deaths; on Friday two more doctors from BAME backgrounds lost their lives to the virus, it was announced.

ITV News has been examining the causes, we have learnt that socio-economic factors such as deprivation, underlying health conditions and cultural differences, like inter-generational households which more common in ethnic minority communities, could lead to an increase in the transmission of Covid-19.

A delay in the translation of government guidelines from English to other languages has also been touted as a reason why the outbreak could be having a more of an adverse affect on some people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

"Health literacy is definitely an issue in Black and Ethnic Minorities, again, this is partly linked to socio-economic deprivation and language barriers that may exist," Dr Hina Shahid told ITV News.

"Cultural and faith factors may also change a way a person perceives health or health information. We know that there is also this mistrust in health and healthcare professionals and also accessing healthcare itself."

She added: "People tend to present when they are sicker and that can make it more difficult to treat so we do have a big role to play in assembling or disseminating the correct information in ways that people can understand, in ways that take into consideration their beliefs about health and illness because that's how the message is going to resonate for them."

She continued: "We are seeing people from Somali, Sudanese communities, from Bengali and Pakistani communities from Iranian and Afghani and Turkish communities - so it is spanning across the spectrum."

"The issue we have when we just break down those communities into BAME, we lose those differences and so it is important to desegregate this data and looking at all the different ethnicities and also looking at faith and religion...which we know is an important determinate of health - we don't have this data so it makes it difficult to unpick and understand what is going on."

Somali community leader Mohamed Ibrahim, director of London Somali youth forum, told ITV News he believes whilst there are socio-economics differences; but cultural differences - which could lead to more disproportionate ethnic minority Covid-19 cases and deaths - have a part to play.

Within the Somali community, he said many feel the need to visit loved ones who are ill with virus symptoms, or go to a family or friend's house to pay their respects for someone who has died from Covid-19 as culturally this is what many would do.

Mr Ibrahim added: "The issue of social distancing from a Somali context is to be honest alien to us, we shake hands, we go to our houses for condolences."

"The other issue is that when you have families that are visiting each other where there are funerals, condolences, we do share this with other communities...but for us it's more alarming."

How can the socio-economic factors affect ethnic minorities amid the coronavirus outbreak?

The first ten doctors to die of coronavirus in the UK were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The virus' impact across all minorities may be because many of them work or live in the most "at risk" scenarios which often don't allow for social-distancing at home or at work.

For instance, the frontline of the NHS and care work to public transport and the "gig economy".

Ethnic minorities are often over represented in high-risk key jobs where they can't afford to stay at home; including taxi, bus and delivery drivers.

Some communities may have a mistrust of healthcare systems so don’t go to their GP or seek medical advice until it is too late.

'It's a very very difficult time and I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime and I hope we never do', says carer Deqa Guled

Deeqa Guled, a carer, has seen first-hand how Covid-19 has devastated her family.

She told ITV News: "It is a tragic loss for, you know, I lost my brother, two of my uncles were critically ill, and I had lost a cousin and a friend, a very close friend of mine.

"And it has psychological impact on the whole family, it's a really difficult time and I'm sure there's others, we're all in this together and sharing the same pain but words cannot describe. We're just going to have to continue with his legacy and try to move on."

She continued: "It's very difficult, you know I still look after my dad who's critically ill and he's bed bound, it's very difficult but we try to do the best that we can."

"Even within my community I know a lot of family and friends who have lost loved ones due to coronavirus."

"You get to a point where I don't want to pick up the phone, you're just constantly worried and you're frightened who's next...or who's been taken to hospital, it was already traumatising enough with my uncle and brother taken from the same house and another uncle I admitted myself," she added.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know

Dr Zubaida Haque, the Deputy Director of the Runnymede Trust, told ITV News she has welcomed the news of the newly-announced government review into BAME deaths.

She added: "The terms of reference of the review will be important as we need to be clearer about which data, which groups and which factors they will focus on, and how long the review will take.

"But more importantly the review needs to take place alongside publicly-shared daily updates of Covid-19 critical care cases and deaths by ethnicity, otherwise Public Health England and the government will not be able to take preventative steps to help vulnerable BME groups now - in real time."