UK to launch review into high proportion of BME COVID-19 deaths

Public health bodies to investigate why more than a third of seriously ill patients have minority ethnic backgrounds.

    Social distancing between two people talking in Halifax, England, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues [Lee Smith/Reuters]
    Social distancing between two people talking in Halifax, England, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues [Lee Smith/Reuters]

    Downing Street has announced a formal review into why COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, appears to disproportionately affect people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds in the United Kingdom.

    The National Health Service and Public Health England will head the probe, after it was found that more than a third of seriously ill coronavirus patients were from BME communities.

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    Of the 2,249 critical patients registered in the UK up to April 3, 13.8 percent were recorded as "Asian", 13.6 percent as "Black" and 6.6 percent as "Other", a report by the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre (ICNARC) revealed earlier this month.

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    "We have seen, both across the population as a whole but in those who work in the NHS, a much higher proportion who've died from minority backgrounds and that really worries me," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday.

    As well as drawing attention to the cases of six front-line doctors from BME backgrounds who died after contracting COVID-19, the ICNARC findings have sparked concerns among BME communities, who represent about 13 percent of the population.

    Long-standing social inequalities, not least in areas affecting health, may be one reason why more ethnic minorities seem to be affected, medics have suggested.

    Also on Thursday, foreign minister Dominic Raab - deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he recovers from his own hospitalisation with COVID-19 - announced the UK's lockdown period would last for at least three more weeks. A further 861 coronavirus patients had died in hospitals in the 24 hours before Wednesday evening, bringing the UK's total hospital death count to 13,729.  

    Britons applauded health workers from their front doors and windows again on Thursday evening in what has become a weekly moment of cacophony and solidarity during the coronavirus lockdown.

    Johnson himself joined the applause this time.

    "Like millions of people across the country, the prime minister joined in the clap for carers this evening, to say thank you for the incredible efforts of the country’s doctors, nurses and care workers," his office said in a statement.

    Outside Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, health workers held signs reading "Thank You Captain Tom!!" dedicated to the war veteran who raised $19m for the health service by painstakingly completing 100 laps of his garden with the aid of a walker.

    Other NHS workers joined in with the cheering outside hospitals in London and Watford, to the north of the capital, with employees of Watford General Hospital joined by local football team mascot Harry the Hornet.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies