PEOPLE of Indian origin in England have emerged as the worst-affected minority group in the coronavirus crisis, according to official data on Covid-19 deaths in hospitals across the country.
Figures released this week by the NHS England show that of the 13,918 patients who died in hospitals till April 17 after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, 16.2 per cent were of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
Indians made up 3 per cent of the victims, with at least 420 deaths. The second worst-hit group was Carribbeans with 407 deaths, followed by Pakistanis (287), Africans (263), other Black groups (131), Bangladeshi (89), Chinese (50), and people from other ethnic groups (388).
The data, only a limited snapshot of the UK-wide Covid-19 tests, followed the British government’s announcement of a review into the coronavirus death toll disparity among the BAME population.
“We have seen, both across the population as a whole but in those who work in the NHS, a much higher proportion who have died from minority backgrounds and that really worries me,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock while launching the review last week.
The proportion of deaths among BAME groups was much higher compared to their roughly 13 per cent make-up of the total population.
“The government must take every necessary step to address this devastating disparity and protect all sectors of the population equally and now,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association.
“It also means taking vital steps now to protect our BAME communities until we can develop a detailed understanding of the threats they face. This could include that those at greatest risk, including older and retired doctors, are not working in potentially infectious settings.”
Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), termed the data on Indian deaths was “alarming”.
“The government should have taken precautionary steps because it is known that comorbidities are an important factor in the seriousness of Covid-19 infection and comorbidities like heart disease, obesity and diabetes are high among the Indian population compared with the white population,” he added.
Notably, the BAPIO recently announced a new academic tie-up with the Imperial College London to set up a research forum to study disparities within the medical profession in the UK.
“This research has the potential to give data required to delineate vulnerable groups in the pandemic and give clear advice on how to reduce the impact on the BAME population,” said Mehta.
British Indian Voice spokesman Ashish Popat told Times of India that “awareness came late”, adding that “it is very difficult to socially distance and self-isloate within a multi-generational household”.
“Most Indians live in extended families and elderly PIOs live with young people who may have been asymptomatic,” he said. “Indians tend to live in clusters where it may have spread, and many work in key worker roles such as in NHS, at Heathrow and as pharmacists.”
Meanwhile, an analysis of the Covid-19 death toll data for NHS workers, which stands at 69, also revealed a higher proportion of BAME casualties, including the death of Dr Manjeet Singh Riyat, the UK’s first Sikh emergency medicine consultant, earlier this week.
A Sky News analysis showed 72 per cent of health and social care staff workers who died due to Covid-19 were from BAME backgrounds.
Dr Habib Naqvi, the NHS director for workforce race and equality, said: “The fact that a high number of black and minority ethnic staff are dying from this pandemic is a worry for us.
“It’s a challenge for us but we need to rise to that challenge and what we need to do is look at what we can put in place right now to support our staff.”