Friday 8 May 2020

Covid-19 risk for the black and minority ethnic community: why reports are misleading and create unjustified fear and anxiety

Widely reported stories like the above from the Guardian in May (stating that "blacks are more than four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than whites") and today's report from the BBC are extremely concerning.  However, a new report from our research group shows that the claims are misleading and may create an unjustified level of fear and anxiety among the black and minority ethnic (BAME) community.

In particular, the claims in the Guardian article come from the conclusion in a UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) report, which is misleading for three reasons:
  1. It appears to rely on old 2011 census data about the population proportions rather than on more recent estimates;
  2. It appears to be based on an ‘age standardized’ measure of risk that is very different from that used by the World Health Organisation (WHO); and
  3. It focuses on relative rather than absolute measures of risk.
These all lead to exagerrating the risk to the BAME community. Regarding the last point, it is important to note that leading statistician and risk expert Prof David Spiegelhalter has convincingly argued why it is better – when discussing risk – to use absolute, not relative, risk differences and to express these as expected frequencies. For example, with this approach, using the ONS data (which was based on the fatalities up to 10 April) and the 2020 population estimates, we can conclude: 
For every 100,000 black people under 65 we expect about 3 more to die of Covid-19 than for every 100,000 white people (5.4 compared to 2.5 respectively in total). Equivalently, a black person under 65 has a 0.0029% increased probability (about 1 in 35,000) of dying compared to a white person under 65.
Hence, we believe the ONS conclusions may be misleading from a risk assessment perspective and may serve as a poor guide to public policy.

Full report:
It is also interesting to note that a previous ONS report on Covid-19 deaths by religion (as opposed to ethnicity) was also misleading in its conclusions.

See also:

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