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Deaths from COVID-19 almost twice as likely among South Asian people in Scotland

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Deaths from COVID-19 almost twice as likely among South Asian people in Scotland

People from South Asian backgrounds in Scotland are almost twice as likely to die from COVID-19, leading to calls for the Scottish Government to increase health services, advice and guidance for South Asian communities.

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) released its study into the effects of ethnicity during the pandemic, which confirmed evidence from other parts of the UK that South Asians were 1.9 times more likely to die from the virus than those from white backgrounds.

The results were presented as odds ratios, “an odds ratio higher than one for a given ethnic group indicates that deaths were more likely to involve COVID-19 compared to the white ethnic group”.

The South Asian ethnic group includes people of Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi Scottish or Bangladeshi British, Indian, Indian Scottish or Indian British, Pakistani, Pakistani Scottish or Pakistani British ethnicity.

NRS found there was insufficient evidence to show that people from Chinese backgrounds were more likely to die from the virus.

“The results show that, over the course of the pandemic to date, COVID-19 was a relatively more common cause of death for people in the South Asian ethnic group, compared to people in the white ethnic group,” the report said.

“It is important to note that this analysis does not say that relatively more people across Scotland in the South Asian ethnic group have died from COVID-19, but rather that, if a person in the South Asian ethnic group died during the pandemic, it is more likely to be COVID-19 related than is the case for those in the white ethnic group.

“The underlying death rate across the population may differ between ethnic groups and it has not been possible to account for this in the analysis.”

The results contradicted Public Health Scotland’s weekly report on May 20, which said its analysis “shows no signal of increased risk of COVID-19 to people from an ethnic minority in Scotland”, however admitted that a low volume and incomplete data had limited its conclusion at that time.

Director of Sikhs in Scotland, Dr Sharandeep Singh, an NHS Scotland anaesthetist, was critical of how long it took for the results to come to light.

“Today's report is long overdue and the findings directly contradict the earlier statement from Public Health Scotland in May 2020,” he said.

“Today’s report confirms that South Asians in Scotland are at higher risk of death from COVID-19 and it chimes with the research conducted in other parts of the UK. It should not have taken so long for these inequalities to be revealed and the Scottish Government must not delay its response any longer.”

Singh urged the government to increase information and services given to South Asian communities in Scotland.

“The pandemic is not yet over. It is crucial that the government increase advice, guidance and health services for South Asian communities and work in partnership with frontline organisations so that no community or individual is left behind as a result of this crisis,” he said.

Labour MSP for Glasgow Anas Sarwar also criticised the delay in publishing the data.

“Ever since the research carried out in England was published, it has caused anxiety for Scotland’s ethnic minority communities. It’s disappointing it took so long for Scottish data to be made available, but it has evidenced what many expected – COVID-19 appears to have disproportionately affected the South Asian ethnic group in Scotland,” he said.

Sarwar called for greater protection for Scotland’s ethnic communities.

“In return for the lifesaving work they are doing on the frontline, Scotland’s ethnic minority communities deserve greater protection,” he said.

“That means ensuring risk assessments are carried out, and I believe tailored messaging for Scotland’s BAME population could further improve health outcomes, including the promotion of Vitamin D supplements. We need to ensure steps are taken to protect all Scots both today and in the future, as this public health crisis is far from over.”

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