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Covid-19 race disparities: Multigenerational households may partly explain why Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities were disproportionately affected in the UK’s second wave



People in the UK of Bangladeshi or Pakistani heritage are more likely to live in households that include schoolchildren and people aged 70 or older – a factor that may explain why people from these backgrounds were more likely to die from covid-19 during the country’s second wave


3 December 2021

Vaccinations taking place at Derby’s Pakistani Community Centre in April, 2021

Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

People of Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage in the UK were more likely to become infected with the coronavirus and die from covid-19 during the country’s second wave, in part because they are more likely to live in multigenerational households. The findings suggest that infections caught in schools may have a disproportionate impact on some ethnic minority groups.

The new data, published today in a UK government report on ethnic health inequalities during the pandemic, suggests that people of Bangladeshi heritage in England and Wales over the age of 65 were three times more likely to have caught the coronavirus between 12 September 2020 and 31 March 2021 than white people in the same age group. People of Pakistani heritage over the age of 65 were 2.5 times more likely to be infected than white over-65s in this period.

People of Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage in England and Wales, of all ages, died from covid-19 at a 5 times and 4.1 times higher rate, respectively, than white people during the second wave.

“When looking at the second wave, there’s a clear gradient in which ethnic groups were worst affected with what percentage of those groups live in multigenerational households,” says the report’s lead author Raghib Ali. “With Bangladeshis the worst off, then Pakistanis, then Indians and then Black Africans.”

A multigenerational household is defined as one that contains at least one person aged 19 or under, at least one between the ages of 20 and 69, and at least one who is 70 or older. About 56 per cent of households of Bangladeshi heritage in the UK are multigenerational, whereas only about 1.5 per cent of white households are. Around 35 per cent of households of Pakistani heritage are multigenerational.

Living in a multigenerational household appears to have had only a relatively small impact during the UK’s first pandemic wave. “But now we know that this was probably due to schools being closed,” says Ali. In the first wave of the pandemic, schools in England switched to mostly remote learning in March 2020 and didn’t fully reopen until September. In-person school attendance then went down again in England in December 2020, with most children doing remote learning until March 2021. This meant that most children attended schools for several months of the second wave, but not the first.

Yize Wan at Queen Mary University of London says there are many reasons why living in a multigenerational household increases the impact of covid-19. “For example, there is an increased transmission in enclosed spaces, difficulty in being able to self-isolate, as well as increased transmission to individuals who may carry greater risk due to age and other chronic health conditions,” she says.

Until recently, there has been a lack of data on multigenerational living, says Ali. “We now have data that shows that multigenerational households suffer the worst from influenza too,” he says. “But this data only came out in the last year.”

Another issue is that early pandemic decisions were based on census data from 2011, says Ali. “This meant families who had children afterwards and also lived with an older relative were not considered multigenerational.”

Ali says it is difficult to know what could have been done differently during the second wave to protect multigenerational households. “I don’t think a targeted approach to sending children back to school would have worked,” says Azeem Majeed at Imperial College London. “This would have excluded children from minority groups from education, which has its own adverse consequences. More could have been done by the government to reduce infection risk in schools.”

Renee Luthra at Essex University in the UK says in hindsight perhaps a more targeted vaccine approach would have been more effective. “Accelerating vaccine access for school age children who live with vulnerable household members would be one such possibility,” she says.

“Particularly with the new omicron variant, decision makers must urgently act to mitigate the risks facing Black and ethnic minority communities by committing to a fully funded cross departmental strategy to reduce health inequalities,” says a spokesperson for race equality charity Runnymede Trust.

“Our priority throughout the pandemic, in line with scientific and expert advice, has been for children to be in face-to-face education as much as possible, as it is the best place for their development and wellbeing,” a Department for Education spokesperson told New Scientist. “We have made sure that a balance of protective measures has been in place throughout to reduce the risks from the virus, including to different ethnic and racial groups, while also reducing the harm caused by children missing out on face-to-face education.”

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year



In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart


17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus



Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer



Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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