Background: Ethnically diverse and socio-economically deprived communities have been differentially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.
Method: Using a multilevel regression model we assess the time-varying association between SARS-CoV-2 infections and areal level deprivation and ethnicity. We separately consider weekly test positivity rate (number of positive tests over the total number of tests) and estimated unbiased prevalence (proportion of individuals in the population who would test positive) at the Lower Tier Local Authority (LTLA) level. The model also adjusts for age, urbanicity, vaccine uptake and spatio-temporal correlation structure.
Findings: Comparing the least deprived and predominantly White areas with most deprived and predominantly non-White areas over the whole study period, the weekly positivity rate increases by 13% from 297% to 335%. Similarly, prevalence increases by 10% from 037% to 041%. Deprivation has a stronger effect until October 2020, while the effect of ethnicity becomes slightly more pronounced at the peak of the second wave and then again in May-June 2021. Not all BAME groups were equally affected: in the second wave of the pandemic, LTLAs with large South Asian populations were the most affected, whereas areas with large Black populations did not show increased values for either outcome during the entire period under analysis.
Interpretation: At the area level, IMD and BAME% are both associated with an increased COVID-19 burden in terms of prevalence (disease spread) and test positivity (disease monitoring), and the strength of association varies over the course of the pandemic. The consistency of results across the two outcome measures suggests that community level characteristics such as deprivation and ethnicity have a differential impact on disease exposure or susceptibility rather than testing access and habits.
Fundings: EPSRC, MRC, The Alan Turing Institute, NIH, UKHSA, DHSC, NIHR.