Structural Racism Not the Cause of Higher CCP Virus Risk for Ethnic Minorities: Medical Expert

October 22, 2020 Updated: October 22, 2020

The increased risk of catching the CCP virus for ethnic minorities in Britain is not caused by structural racism but is largely due to things such as living circumstances and profession, according to a government adviser.

Raghib Ali, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge and newly appointed government adviser on the virus and ethnicity, told reporters that structural racism could not account for the different outcomes for black and South Asian ethnic groups and that different races should not be treated differently.

“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 told reporters.

His remarks come following the government’s first quarterly report (pdf) on COVID-19 health inequalities published on Thursday.

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 told the BBC’s Today programme that “where you live, your job, how deprived an area you live in, the type of housing you live in, the number of people living in the house and whether it’s multigenerational” were the key risk factors.

‘Co-morbidities’

He added that certain “co-morbidities” such as obesity and diabetes can also increase the risk of a “poor outcome of dying from COVID”.

There was, however, “a small amount of excess risk” not accounted for by these factors, he said, and the government was further investigating this.

The government report followed an undertaking it made in June to look further into why people from  black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups were more likely to catch the CCP virus and die from the disease.

Despite several Public Health England (PHE) studies showing a disproportionate impact of the virus, the dynamics of exactly what disposes certain groups to increased risk had been unclear.

Ali’s remarks appear somewhat at odds with a June report (pdf) from PHE that suggested that “historic racism” was a risk factor.

Difficult to Change

It said that this meant people from BAME groups, due to “poorer experiences of healthcare or at work”, would be less likely to seek out health care or, if working for the NHS, speak up about risks or personal protective equipment (PPE).

The doctors’ trade union, the British Medical Association (BMA), said in a statement that it had welcomed the PHE report in June but that, four months later, 35 percent of intensive care beds were occupied by BAME patients and twice as many people from ethnic groups were infected.

In response to a question about this, Ali told the BBC’s Today Programme that many of the identified risk factors for BAME groups are long-term, difficult to change, and would not have altered since the first wave of the virus.

He said, however, that initiatives were being undertaken to improve underlying socio-economic factors for the groups.

He added that another advantage was that since the first wave, people in high-risk occupations are now being given PPE, being tested, and receiving “good public health messaging”.

Reuters contributed to this report.