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Disparities worsened in second Covid wave for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis

19th Mar 2021
Disparities worsened in second Covid wave for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis

(Image Credit Anadolu Agency)

Hamed Chapman

Disparities in the risk of infection and death worsened for Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, but improved for some other ethnic groups, a government progress report has found.

In its second quarterly report, the Government’s Race Disparity Unit found that when comparing the first and the early second wave data, death rates from Covid-19 dropped by more than 60 per cent for both Black African men and Black African women, but rose by 124 per cent and 97 per cent for men and women from Pakistani backgrounds, respectively.

“There remains an excess risk of mortality after adjustment for all factors in the early second wave data for Bangladeshis and Pakistanis—this is because of a higher risk of infection, not worse survival, and not because of genetics or ethnicity in itself—but the reasons are not yet clear,” it reported.

Interacting risk factors such as household composition, geography, and occupation explain higher infection rates among Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, the Race Disparity Unit suggested.

Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups are more likely to live in multigenerational households and most likely to live in urban areas, both of which carry a higher risk of infection, the report said. Forty-one percent of employed people from Pakistani or Bangladeshi groups work in higher risk areas such as sales and customer service; process, plant, and machine operation; or elementary occupations, compared with 24 per cent of workers of all ethnic groups.

In addition, it is known that Covid-19 infection and risk of mortality are both associated with deprivation. 31.1 per cent of Pakistanis and 19.3 per cent of Bangladeshis live in the most deprived 10 per cent of neighbourhoods, says the report.

Differences in occupational exposure could also account for some differences in mortality between groups, as a higher proportion of Pakistani and Bangladeshi men work as taxi drivers, shopkeepers and proprietors than men in any other ethnic backgrounds, according to the report

For example, 33% of male taxi and private hire vehicle drivers and chauffeurs and 10.9% of male security guards and related occupations are Bangladeshi or Pakistani men, compared to 3.1% of men in all occupations. Both occupations have higher mortality rates, 101.4 and 100.7 per 100,000, respectively, compared to 31.4 per 100,000 for working-age men in England and Wales.

“The latest data show that this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Outcomes have improved for some ethnic minorities, since the first wave, but some communities are still particularly vulnerable,” Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch said.

“Our response will continue to be driven by the latest evidence and data and targeted at those who are most at risk,” she said, insisting throughout the pandemic, the Government has “done everything it can, to protect everyone in this country.” Quoting the findings, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jenny Harries, said it was “vital that we recognise the breadth of diversity within the UK and the multitude of different risk variables.”

“Different groups have experienced different outcomes during both waves of the virus for a variety of reasons,” she said. “As we leave lockdown we must ensure that we continue with a supportive, sensitive, evidenced and data-driven approach, working in partnership with communities.”

The report quoted that there had been positive progress on some key recommendations from the first report, including that NHS trusts had made “significant progress” on protecting the most vulnerable staff and patients and the list of shielded patients has been updated.

It also emphasised the importance of people taking up vaccines when offered, highlighting that research showed that some people from ethnic minorities were hesitant to have the vaccine. The report said that the Government was tackling vaccine hesitancy through a range of measures, including a media campaign across many outlets and in 13 languages; new community champions; outreach with healthcare providers, faith leaders, and others; and the new government Counter Disinformation Unit.

“The key message is that we need to boost vaccine uptake in all low uptake areas. The vaccine will not solve the other inequalities, but it will sort out the current main problem that we have. Trying to sort out diabetes and obesity are longer-term problems,” said Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, Keith Neal.

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