Manish Pareek, an associate clinical professor at the University of Leicester, is leading a study to look into the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic groups in the UK. Amit Gupta, a neonatal consultant, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, is a part of his team. They explained the significance of the study to Pinaki Chakraborty:

Give us an overview of your study.

Manish: What the study is trying to understand is what the risk of Covid-19 on healthcare workers from different groups is. We know that certain ethnic groups in the UK were affected more, particularly those from Asian and black backgrounds. We also know that during the initial stage doctors, nurses and other health workers from certain ethnic groups were getting Covid at a higher rate and were dying at a higher rate. This study will find out why certain ethnic groups are at a greater risk than others. It will enrol 30,000 health workers over the next few months and will follow them for the next year to find out what is the risk for infection. If we find that there are certain groups at high risk we will make recommendations to the government about how to reduce risk.

What’s the duration of the study?

Amit: It will be one year, but there would be spinoffs from this I suppose.

Manish: The study is funded for 12 months in the initial stage, but we expect to provide the initial results in the next 2-3 months. We hope to have a long-term study to have a look at the medium and long term impact of Covid-19.

How effective will that study be for doctors here?

Manish: My view is that there would be certain factors that would be common across countries – age, gender and underlying medical condition of doctors. There are similarities like multi-occupancy households and multigenerational households in the UK, like India. There would be factors that would be transferable across countries, there would be some that won’t.

When you compare the UK with the US the results are different. Do economic factors play a pivotal role?

Manish: Deprivation and economic circumstances are important. There’s a combination of many factors, your home situation, your work situation, how you travel to work.

Amit: One thing that we might find is the results are broadly applicable to healthcare workers in India, Brazil and the US. Although it is being done in the UK, there could broadly be lessons that can be learnt elsewhere.

The results are applicable elsewhere?

Amit: For example, one of the interesting parts we are looking at is social behaviour, whether risk perceptions are the same. People from South Asian communities may be more risk taking than others. There will be some points that we will learn on how people behave. There can be lessons that apply to others.

Manish: It is fair to say that in terms of risk assessment. Most studies look at individual factors, but very few have taken all factors together. You need a large study and as far as we are aware this would be the largest study in the world.

How effective is BCG vaccine in tackling the virus?

Manish: There are lots of studies happening. There are observations that in certain parts of the world where BCG is given, case numbers or death rates are lower. I don’t think we have any definitive proof that BCG protects against Covid-19. The virus is pretty much the same across the world. Perhaps there are mutations and that is expected. India has a younger population compared with the rest of the world and that is why you do not see such death rates. Also it is about reporting of deaths and how reliable the reporting is.

Are we looking at a second wave of infections?

Amit: I think it is happening already. Until you control the spread of the virus, there is no way for the virus to disappear. The only other mechanism we have is for people to avoid contact with the virus. You will have to do things at the societal level like lockdown, which is the severest form. That has to be implemented from time to time.

Manish: Lockdown is a blunt tool. If you don’t do anything else with it, it is not effective. You need to have good testing and contact tracing. Lockdown is the last resort.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.