Many of the results were unsurprising. The study found age was by far the greatest risk factor, people aged over 80 being 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19. Being a man doubled the risk, while obesity was also a significant risk factor.
But the results for ethnic communities stand out.
Even after adjusting for the fact that they are more likely to have underlying health conditions, the Oxford study found people whose families hail from southern Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, remain 1.6 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. People who were black were 1.7 times more likely to die.
The study, which has not yet been through rigorous peer review, does not show that being black or Asian causes a person to be more likely to die from COVID-19 – merely that there is an association.
The researchers suggest this may be because people from ethnic minorities comprise a greater proportion of frontline groups such as nurses or doctors, or work in other industries where they have been unable to work from home. On average, they may live in houses with more people in them.
For Professor Yin Paradies, chair of race relations at Deakin University, the answer is simple: disadvantage.
“Disadvantage is something that gets under the skin. It has physiological as well as mental impacts on people’s health.”
A number of previous studies had established that being from a minority ethnic group made you more likely to have health problems, he said. COVID-19 was just the latest.
“Stress from too many people to support, lack of social support, unemployment or underemployment, the impacts of racism on health, which have been found to exacerbate physical conditions, like asthma – this is how disadvantage effects your health.”
He called for the federal government to begin collecting ethnicity data for COVID-19 cases, so a true picture of how hard the virus has hit minority communities could be put together.
Even before COVID-19 reached Australia, ethnic community leaders were concerned the virus would hit their communities particularly hard.
Sign up to our Coronavirus Update newsletter
“We know migrant communities have higher rates of chronic illness – not as high as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – but higher than the average person,” said Mary Patetsos, chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia.
“And we’re seeing that play out in America and the UK right now.”
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter