Occupation is one of the main factors of Covid-19 infection, and is one of the reasons why people from ethnic minority groups face a higher risk of infection and death, research has suggested.
Although it has been widely accepted that people with ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to become infected and die from Covid-19, until now the risk factors affecting ethnic minorities have been unclear.
According to government-commissioned research published by the Equality Hub and Race Disparity Unit, the main factors affecting a person’s likelihood of becoming infected with, and dying from, Covid-19 include occupation, particularly working in frontline roles including those in the NHS; living with children in multigenerational households; living in densely populated urban areas with poor air quality; and higher levels of social deprivation.
“These factors, or a combination of them, are likely to explain the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on certain ethnic groups, such as Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups. Once infected with Covid-19, factors such as older age, male sex and having a disability or pre-existing health condition continue to be risk factors for mortality,” the report said.
While ethnicity itself was not thought to be a risk factor, recent research by Oxford University identified a gene responsible for doubling the risk of respiratory failure from Covid-19, which is carried by 61% of people with South Asian ancestry. This goes some way to explaining the higher death rates and hospitalisations in that group.
The report argued that, during the first and second waves of coronavirus, healthcare workers, indoor trade or transport and mobile machine workers had at least twice the total odds of seropositivity (presence of antibodies) compared with people employed in other professional occupations.
The research has made several public health recommendations, including:
- ensuring the success of Covid-19 vaccination deployment is carried over to other public health programmes, such as winter flu and Covid-19 booster vaccinations. This includes continuing to use “respected local voices” to build trust within ethnic minority groups and to help tackle misinformation
- not treating ethnic minorities as a homogenous group – Covid-19 has affected different ethnic groups in different ways
- avoiding stigmatising ethnic minorities by singling them out for special treatment, which could be taken to imply that they are vulnerable or “somehow at fault for the spread of the virus”
- improving the quality of health ethnicity data so that patterns and trends can be spotted sooner in future
- reassuring pregnant women that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe
- building trust in health services within ethnic minority groups, through optimising and building on local partnerships
- ensuring there is clarity in the communications about the need for Covid-19 boosters and the longer-term plan for Covid-19 vaccinations.
Separately, the Office for National Statistics has estimated that one in 60 people in the UK – more than one million people – would test positive for the virus in the week ending 27 November.
One in 60 are estimated to be testing positive for coronavirus in England; one in 45 in Wales; one in 45 in Northern Ireland; and one in 65 in Scotland.