South Asian people the most likely group to die from Covid-19, experts say

  • Video report by ITV News Reporter Sejal Karia

South Asian people are the most likely group to die from Covid-19 after being admitted to hospital across the UK, according to a new study.

Data from 30,693 people admitted to 260 hospitals found a 19 percent increased risk of death with coronavirus for those who were South Asian compared with white people.

Experts behind the study said 40 percent of the South Asians in the group had diabetes – which was a “significant factor” in their increased risk of death.

The data was taken from hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales from February 6 to May 8, with patient follow-up to May 22.

  • Prof Ewan Harrison, one of the study authors, discusses why diabetes appears such a risk for people from South Asia

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal, included 1,388 people of South Asian background (5% of the total group), 266 who were East Asian (1%), 1,094 who were black (4%), 2,398 who were other ethnic minority (8%) and 25,547 who were white (83%).

Ethnic minorities were younger and more likely to have diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) but had fewer other underlying health conditions, such as chronic heart disease or dementia, than people who were white.

No difference was seen between ethnic groups when it came to the severity of illness on admission to hospital.

People who were South Asian were 28% more likely to be admitted to critical care, as were those who were black (36% increased risk), compared with those who were white, the study found.

This held true even when age, sex and place of admission were taken into account, and the impact of deprivation.

The UK currently has the third highest death toll from the virus worldwide, behind the USA and Brazil. Credit: PA

The results showed that those who were South Asian were 19 percent more likely to die with coronavirus, while those who were black were 5 percent more likely to die, and other ethnic minorities had no higher risk compared with white people.

The researchers, from the University of Edinburgh, concluded: “Ethnic minorities in hospital with Covid-19 were more likely to be admitted to critical care and receive IMV (ventilation) than whites, despite similar disease severity on admission, similar duration of symptoms, and being younger with fewer comorbidities.

“South Asians are at greater risk of dying, due at least in part to a higher prevalence of pre-existing diabetes.”

Dr Ewen Harrison, professor of surgery and data science at the University of Edinburgh, who led the study, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “South Asian people look very different in hospital to other groups, in particular, white people.

“They’re younger, 12 years younger in average, less likely to have pre-existing conditions such as lung disease, dementia or obesity but much more likely to have diabetes.

“In fact 40 percent of the South Asians in hospital with Covid-19 have diabetes, we think this is quite a significant contributor to their increased likelihood of death.”

And another key new report out today revealed that British Muslims are the faith group dying most from Covid-19. This emerged as the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released death figures broken down by faith for the first time during this pandemic. Jewish, Hindu and Sikh groups also showed a greater vulnerability to the virus than other faiths.

The new data comes just a few days after Public Health England released the second part of its findings to a government commissioned review into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK.

Responding to the new figures the man charged with leading the review, Professor Kevin Fenton tweeted: “Our PHE Covid-BAME report highlighted the importance of faith as protective for communities in responding to Covid-19 but also concerns about practices and beliefs that may increase communities’ risk. These new ONS data explore some of the issues."

One leading BAME medical group who had been campaigning for faith data to be included to help prevent more lives being lost, told ITV News it was welcome but very late.

Dr Hina J Shahid, the medical group chair who consulted for the PHE review, said: "This should have been published three months ago to mitigate risk to communities.

ITV News previously reported on the lack of faith and ethnicity data while investigating the disproportionate toll on minorities months ago back in April.

Dr Shahid told Rageh Omaar then why the data for BAME needed disaggregating fully by ethnicity and faith: "We don’t have this data and need to in order to unpick and understand what is going on".

Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said: "...the root cause of this must be addressed in order to prevent the further unnecessary loss of life.

"Yet, the UK Government continues to obfuscate the problem, denying the role institutional racism plays in creating health inequalities, failing to tailor public policy to the needs of different communities and overseeing the excess deaths of British Muslims.”

Today's ONS figures follow its provisional analysis of registered deaths of the period 2 March to 15 May 2020. It said that: "Adjusting for age, the highest mortality rates involving Covid-19 were in the Muslim religious group... Jewish, Hindu and Sikh also showed higher mortality rates than other groups".

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