LONDON (Reuters) – The increased risk to ethnic minorities from COVID-19 is largely driven by factors such as living circumstances and profession and not the genetics of different groups or structural racism, a report into racial disparities from the pandemic has found.
Several studies have shown a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minorities, and the British government in June promised further work to look into the causes of the disparities.
But the dynamics of whether certain groups are more likely to contract the virus to start with due to external factors, or are more susceptible to it once exposed, have been unclear.
The first quarterly report on COVID-19 health inequalities found that there was increased risk for Black and South Asian ethnic groups, adding that factors such as profession, deprivation and where people lived explained most of the increased risk, rather than genetics.
“The early work that I’ve seen doesn’t suggest there’s any genetic explanation for this,” Dr Raghib Ali, a newly appointed government adviser on COVID and ethnicity, told reporters.
Ali said that although being in an ethnic minority was a reasonable proxy for being in a higher-risk group at the start of the pandemic, public health measures should be targeted along more specific socioeconomic lines moving forward.
“Now we have more information as to what explains the increased risk … there’s no reason why a white bus driver should be treated differently from an Asian bus driver or a white doctor should be treated differently from an Asian doctor,” he said.
Although the report said most of the increased risk for ethnic minorities was readily explained by socioeconomic and geographical factors, it added that the factors did not fully explain the vulnerability of some ethnic groups, such as Black men.
Ali also said that structural racism could not account for the different outcomes, as ethnic minorities in general had higher life-expectancy on average.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison)