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We used UK Biobank to investigate ethnic differences in SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Black and south Asian groups were at highest risk of testing positive and having a positive test while attending hospital, suggesting they were also at greater risk of severe disease from the virus.
These risks remained largely unchanged even when accounting for pre-existing health conditions, health-related behaviours (such as smoking) and the likelihood of working for the health service. However, socioeconomic differences seemed to partly but not wholly explain ethnic differences in COVID-19. Using UK Biobank data, we found that black people were at highest risk of testing positive with SARS-CoV-2, more than three times more likely than white people. South Asian groups also had a higher risk of testing positive, with Pakistani groups having the highest risk among them. Socioeconomic deprivation and having no qualifications were also consistently associated with a higher risk of confirmed infection. The UK Biobank study linked data between its study participants and SARS-CoV-2 test results held by Public Health England. Among 392,116 Biobank participants in England, 2,658 had been tested for SARS-CoV-2 and 948 tested positive (726 in hospital) between 16 March and 3 May 2020.
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. Based on these new findings, we suggest that more work urgently needs done to better understand and address these elevated risks.