THE link between ethnicity and Covid-19 risk is becoming "increasingly clear", Scottish researchers say.

New research provides further evidence of the extra risk posed by the illness to those from black and south Asian backgrounds.

Socio-economic factors like deprivation levels and working in health care only partly explain the disparity with white Britons, scientists have found.

Dr Vittal Katikireddi, of Glasgow University, said: “We must urgently try and understand what is causing these differences in risk so that we can address them and improve outcomes for patients.”

Disproportionate death rates amongst people from black and Asian backgrounds in England have triggered waves of concern amongst minority ethnic communities in Scotland.

The Office for National Statistics found coronavirus death rates for black men and women in England were more than four times higher than those for white males and females.

Equivalent data for Scotland is not currently available, but earlier this week The National revealed how medics and police from minority ethnic groups in Scotland have sought help from a new counselling line offering support amidst heightened anxiety during the crisis.

Now newly published research led by Katikireddi and collegues at Glasgow University has found black and south Asian people in England have a higher risk of testing positive with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19.

These groups were also at a greater risk of hospitalisation, suggesting they are more likely than white Britons to suffer severe disease from the virus.

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Using UK Biobank data, which now includes Covid-19 information, researchers funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office and the Medical Research Council found black people in England were at the highest risk of having laboratory-confirmed infection – more than three times more than white people.

South Asian groups also had a higher risk of positive diagnosis, with Pakistani groups most vulnerable amongst them.

The risks remained largely unchanged even when accounting for pre-existing health conditions, health-related behaviours like smoking and the likelihood of working for the health service. 

Age, male sex and pre-existing medical conditions have already been established as predictors of adverse COVID-19 outcomes, however the role of social factors and ethnicity is less well understood so far.

The team said socioeconomic differences may be partly, but not wholly, to blame – deprivation and lack of qualification were consistently associated with a higher risk of confirmed infection.

Katikireddi said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that some minority ethnic groups have a higher risk of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, which is only partly accounted for by differences in socio-economic conditions and underlying health conditions.

“Our findings suggest that black and south Asian people experience higher risks of needing to attend hospital for COVID-19.”

The findings are published in the BMC Medicine journal.