British Muslims hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic

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Data indicates British Muslims represent 17% of all positive COVID-19 cases within the UK despite only representing 6% of the UK population.

British Muslims have experienced the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic – shown by our latest report. However, one of the biggest disparities the pandemic has highlighted is regarding COVID-19’s infection and mortality rates for ethnic minorities in this country. 

Research from the University of Manchester points to higher mortality rates within the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African ethnic groups – all of whom are almost at twice the risk of death from COVID-19 compared to White people. Muslims within Britain are largely from these three ethnic groups.

With research into mortality rates having been produced, Muslim Census aimed to look into the disparity within infection rates. We collected the responses of 1000 British Muslims to explore the rate of infection within the Muslim population, amongst other issues, and the results prove to further highlight the disproportionate impacts. The full report can be accessed here.

“British Muslims have tested positive for COVID-19 at a rate 3.5 times higher than the national average”

Of the British Muslims we surveyed, 23% reported that they have tested positive for COVID-19 during the last year. The latest data at the national level indicates that 6.5% of the national population has tested positive for COVID-19. This means that the British Muslim community has experienced a COVID-19 infection rate 3.5 times greater than the national average.

The latest figures suggest that there are approximately 3.3 million Muslims currently living within the UK making the Muslim population the largest religious minority in Britain by a substantial margin.

In terms of the raw figures, this means that approximately 760’000 British Muslims may have tested positive for COVID-19. At the national level, there have been 4,368,045 positive COVID-19 tests, as of 10 April 2021. Therefore, although representing only 6% of the national population, British Muslims alarmingly represent approximately 17.4% of all positive COVID-19 tests within the UK. 

This alarming disparity is even worse within certain sub-sections of the Muslim population. British Muslims within the Bangladeshi ethnic group suffered the highest rate of positive tests at 27% whilst the rate trended upwards across the age groups and reached the highest for Muslims aged 45 and over who also experienced a positive test rate of 27%. There appeared to be an equal rate of infection for both men and women reporting COVID-positive at 23%.

Such startling findings have predictably manifested themselves in significantly higher mortality rates within the British Muslim population. The ONS concluded in June 2020 that British Muslims are at a greater risk of death from COVID-19 related causes than their Christian counterparts. The risk of death in this regard is 2.5 times higher for Muslim males, compared to Christian males, and 1.9 times higher for Muslim females, compared to Christian females.

What is causing this disparity?

Occupational risks associated with overrepresentation in front-line work is a substantial factor. Amnesty International has found that the UK is amongst the highest in the world for deaths of health care workers. Muslims currently represent 10% of the NHS Doctors, excluding GPs, despite representing 5% of the UK population. Such a substantial overrepresentation indicates that Muslim may have experienced an overrepresentation in NHS staff COVID-19 deaths. 

In fact, ethnic minority COVID-19 deaths within the NHS currently constitute 63% of all COVID-19 related deaths within the NHS despite the ethnic minority community only representing 21% of the total workforce. As noted previously, the overwhelming majority of Muslims belong to ethnic minority communities indicating increased risk for the Muslim population. It is also important to note that the first four Doctors to pass away from COVID-19 were all from the Muslim and ethnic minority populations. 

Occupational risks are also represented by our findings with 23% of respondents within the healthcare sector reporting to have tested positive for COVID-19 with this increasing to 28% of British Muslims within the retail and hospitality sectors – three sectors hardest hit by the pandemic and where social distancing measures may be more difficult to implement and adhere to.

Geographical distribution and socio-economic deprivation have also facilitated increased risks. An overwhelming majority of Muslims currently reside in urban areas where there are historic and well-established correlations with poorer health and higher death rates when compared to rural communities. This correlation carries through to the pandemic where mortality rates for deaths involving COVID-19 in the most deprived areas in England and Wales, at 128.3 deaths per 100,000 population, are more than double the mortality rate in the least deprived areas. 

Currently, 46% of the British Muslim population resides in 10% of the most deprived local authority districts within the UK. Similarly, 28% of Muslims currently occupy social housing – this is substantially higher than the national average of 17% indicating that Muslims generally experience overrepresentation in deprived areas and therefore face the increased risk of contracting or testing positive for COVID-19 and therefore, Muslims face and increased risk of death. 

The prevalence of intergenerational and larger households within the Muslim population, and the ethnic minority population more broadly, is also a contributing factor. The percentage of Muslims within 1 or 2 generation households reporting to have tested positive for COVID-19 is 22% though this increases substantially to 30% in households with 3 or more generations. It is also important to highlight that over 90% of our respondents were living in a household larger than the UK average of 2.4 people.

All the factors mentioned have contributed to a harsh disparity regarding infection and mortality rates

What next?

It is imperative that we continue to work with health organisations, like the NHS, to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the Muslim community. It is equally, if not more, important that the NHS and government take proportionate action to solve disproportionate impact. Those leading vaccine rollout strategies should ensure the concerns and problems of Muslims are understood, addressed and remedied. To this end, we strongly encourage all young Muslims to complete our most recent survey, in collaboration with the NHS, to explore young Muslims’ perspective of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Finally, we encourage Muslims to take the precautions necessary to protect the community. What this report clearly shows is that the Muslim population are at a much higher risk than the UK average. It is thus incumbent on us to react and respond appropriately be that through the vaccination, continuing to comply with the mandated regulations and, of course, to continue caring for our most vulnerable.

This piece is written by Usmaan Mufti.

Muslim Census is available for comment on this study. Please contact us here.