Has the UK failed to learn the lessons of the first wave of Covid-19? As cases and hospitalisations rise across the country, weekly figures published by Public Health England (PHE) show the same groups of people are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19 as were during the spring: elderly care home residents, ethnic minority groups and those living in poverty.
Care home outbreaks are increasing again
Care homes bore the brunt of the virus during the first wave. In England and Wales, there have been 15,501 deaths in care homes officially ascribed to the virus. There have also been a further 9,954 deaths in care homes this year in England and Wales which, while not officially ascribed to Covid-19, are above the normal level.
[See also: Anoosh Chakelian: Government care home plans were sneaked out late Friday night – here’s what they miss]
Despite the government’s promise to throw a “protective ring” around the sector, care homes are now once again experiencing a rise in Covid-19 outbreaks. The latest PHE figures paint a sobering picture. They show 228 outbreaks in English care homes where there was at least one case of Covid-19 in the week to 13 September – up from just 35 a week earlier. That’s incredibly worrying – a jump by more than a factor of seven in a week, and back up to levels not seen since the week ending 3 May.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes figures on deaths from Covid-19 in care homes, but the latest release only goes up to 4 September. This delay, plus the lag between people catching Covid-19 and dying from it, means there likely won’t be any increase in those figures for a few weeks.
Looking more generally at data on positive tests, younger people are still experiencing higher rates of Covid-19, but the virus has started to filter through to older generations.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said yesterday morning: “What we’ve seen in other countries and are now seeing here is they [cases] are not staying just in the younger age groups, they’re moving up the age bands, and the mortality rates will be similar to, slightly lower, but similar to what we saw previously.”
Deprivaton is still linked to Covid-19
The most deprived people are also currently experiencing higher rates of disease among almost all age groups. The only exception is among 17 to 19-year-olds, where an inverse relationship means the most affluent are the most likely to contract Covid-19. This has a fairly obvious explanation: more affluent teenagers are more likely to attend university, and the virus is likely spreading around halls of residence, student homes and campuses.
Studies from the ONS established a link between deprivation and Covid-19 during the first wave, with those from the most deprived areas more than twice as likely to die from the disease after taking age into account than those from the least deprived areas.
This disparity is likely to continue, if the case rates remain as unequal as they currently are.
Ethnic minorities are disproportionately becoming seriously ill
It has been well documented that ethnic minorities were disproportionately affected during the first wave of the virus. Figures showed that black people were four times more likely to die than white people. Those of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, and mixed ethnicities also had a raised risk of death.
This disparity appears to be continuing: Pakistani, Indian, Asian and black people are catching the virus at higher rates, and are also disproportionately being hospitalised.
The newest PHE report, which reports the latest week of data, shows that 10 per cent of hospitalisations in England were people from an Asian ethnicity – even though they make up 8 per cent of the English population. Almost 8 per cent were black – even though they make up less than 4 per cent of the population, while 79 per cent were white (compared to their population share of 85 per cent).
Of patients with the most severe cases – those entering ICU – some 37 per cent were from an ethnic minority or mixed background. It’s thought that the ethnic disparity in Covid-19 cases is partly down to employment, and underlying health conditions, and there may also be some overlap with deprivation.
Together, these figures show that the same groups of people who were drastically hit the first time round are being affected again – suggesting a failure to learn the lessons from the tens of thousands of deaths that happened in the spring.