LONDON – A British government report suggests that BAME communities in England — people from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds — are up to 50% more likely to die after being infected with COVID-19, compared with white ethnic groups.
The report from the government agency Public Health England suggests people of Bangladeshi origin are most vulnerable, with twice the risk of death from COVID-19 as white British people. Those who are of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani or other Asian ethnicity, as well as Caribbean or other black ethnicity, had a 10% to 50% higher risk of death.
London’s Times newspaper said the publishing of the report earlier this month had been delayed because ministers were concerned that it could stoke tensions amid the growing Black Lives Matter protests across the country. The government did not confirm the story.
Following the report’s publication, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said further research was needed. “There is much more work to do to understand what’s driving these disparities and how the different risk factors interact, and we are absolutely determined to get to the bottom of this and find ways of closing that gap,” Hancock told reporters on June 2.
The findings of the report support similar recent studies in the United States and Finland. “It’s not an observation unique to the U.K.,” said molecular biologist Dr. Sterghios Moschos of the University of Northumbria in a Skype interview with VOA last week.
“The United States has seen more BAME people being affected by this disease,” said Moschos. “So there is a suggestion, and I have to be very explicit, a suggestion that BAME individuals may have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to the disease.”
Other scientists believe the causes are rooted in societal inequality and cultural differences.
Dr. Muhammad Munir, a lecturer in biomedicine at the University of Lancaster, told VOA in a June 4 Skype interview that he spoke from personal experience on the added risks faced by people of South Asian origin, pointing to “the social status, the way people are being congested in multigenerational occupancies, and the overall exposure the BAME group has in the community.”
Birmingham property developer Amer Awan, who is of Pakistani origin, lost his 67-year-old father, Nazir Awan, to COVID-19 on April 9. He suspects cultural practices are to blame for higher death rates.
“Sometimes you have brothers and sisters all living in three, four houses next door to each other. And they’re just probably very oblivious to the fact that this thing is so serious, and they didn’t take much notice of that. They were literally going into each other’s houses,” Awan told the AFP news agency shortly after his father’s death.
“I know the fact that when the government closed down mosques, for example, in the community some people were inviting people into their houses and saying, ‘Let’s do the Friday prayers here.’ ”
Ethnic minorities may also be concentrated in certain high-risk occupations, says Munir.
“For example, 13% of the U.K. population is BAME [but] it is more than 44% of NHS [National Health Service] doctors that are from BAME groups. We can still identify that Pakistani, Bangladeshi origin — they are more exposed and have a more severe impact than Chinese and Indians have. So that also highlights that the genetics is probably not the major difference.”
That suggestion comes as Black Lives Matter protests are erupting in the United States, Britain and around the world in the wake of the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, a black man, while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.
Scientists say there needs to be much more investigation and it’s too early to pinpoint what is to blame for the disparity.
Source: Voice of America