An urgent review has been launched into whether obesity, ethnicity and gender raise the risk of death from coronavirus.
Matt Hancock has ordered health officials to trawl through the records of thousands of pandemic victims.
The Health Secretary said it was too early to confirm that weight was a factor but ‘data from around the world’ was suggesting a link.
Matt Hancock has ordered health officials to trawl through the records of thousands of pandemic victims
Researchers at the University of Liverpool warned last week that obesity increased the risk of dying from the virus by 37 per cent.
Around three in ten adults in England are clinically obese – with a Body Mass Index above 30 – a rate among the highest in the Western world.
And Britain’s virus death toll, which rose yesterday to 28,734, is second only to Italy’s among European nations. Scientists believe obese patients are more at risk of serious complications because their immune systems are worn out after repairing cells damaged by excess fat.
Researchers at New York University recently highlighted obesity as a main driver of patients under the age of 60 needing hospital care. A study showed those with a BMI between 30 and 34 were almost twice as likely to be admitted to acute or critical (ICU) care than those with a BMI under 30. This likelihood increased to 3.6 times in those patients with a BMI of 35 or more
Mr Hancock said: ‘Our knowledge about this virus grows daily and it appears some groups are more affected than others.
‘Emerging data from around the world suggests there could possibly be a relationship between obesity and the impact of Covid-19 on individuals.
‘It’s too early to say if obesity in itself is a factor or conditions associated with it – or there is not enough data yet to rule it out – so we need to approach any assumptions with caution.
Around three in ten adults in England are clinically obese – with a Body Mass Index above 30 – a rate among the highest in the Western world
‘Every death from this virus is a tragedy and behind each statistic is a name, a loss and a family that will never be the same again.’
The review was announced as:
- Deaths from the virus rose by 288 on Sunday – the lowest daily figure since the end of March;
- A leaked government blueprint revealed that millions face a grim return to work in which social contact remains heavily restricted;
- New figures revealed that 6.3million are having their wages subsidised by the state under the furlough scheme;
- The deputy chief medical officer raised hopes of an effective antibody test, saying the ‘overwhelming majority’ of recovered patients produced antibodies;
- Downing Street confirmed the Nightingale Hospital in London will be mothballed;
- Mr Hancock revealed that 85,186 tests were conducted on Sunday – the second day running the figure fell below his 100,000 target;
- Tory MPs stepped up pressure on ministers to ease the lockdown; n But Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘very likely’ to stay in place for another three weeks because the infection rate was still high;
- Ministers urged the use of contactless payments in shops with tradesmen paid electronically;
- Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said China had ‘questions to answer’ over the pandemic;
- Fellow minister Therese Coffey revealed that 1.8million have signed on for Universal Credit since the crisis began;
- Residents of the Isle of Wight were urged to sign up for a pilot scheme of a virus-tracking app.
The review will be overseen by Public Health England and officials will examine thousands of case reports into patients who died from coronavirus.
They will also look at these individuals’ health records to identify possible risk factors, notably obesity, ethnicity, gender and geographical location.
Don’t keep over-70s isolated, MP warns
The most senior Tory backbencher last night urged the Government not to exempt all over-70s from any easing of the lockdown.
Ministers are considering telling those aged over 70 to continue to stay indoors even as restrictions are lifted for others.
But Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, said whether people are told to stay in lockdown should be based on health risk and not age.
He said: ‘We have today the most healthiest, active elderly generation of all time and it would be tragic if government threatened this by trying to extend a so-called lockdown for those judged to be most at risk based on age.
‘Why don’t we just give them the best information and advice and let them limit their risk themselves?’
Sir Graham called on ministers to announce an easing of the lockdown soon.
Yesterday the PM’s spokesman indicated the Government was considering different guidance for the over-70s.
The Government hopes to publish the findings at the end of this month and they will be used to decide whether ‘further action’ should be taken to protect these groups.
This could include extra social distancing precautions or special advice for NHS staff on the front line who are deemed at risk.
Officials are also particularly concerned that black and ethnic minority groups appear to be more susceptible to the virus; figures have shown death rates are two and a half times higher.
Professor Kevin Fenton of Public Health England said last night: ‘Having an accurate understanding of how diseases affect different groups of people is a really important issue and a fundamental part of PHE’s role.
Detailed and careful work is being done so that we can better understand this and explore the possible reasons for any disparities.
‘Increasing evidence and concern around the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic groups highlights an important focus of this review.’
Obesity is known to increase the risk of death from cancer and other illnesses and scientists believe the condition weakens the immune system as cells flare up.
Data shows how the coronavirus death toll in Britain has risen at a much quicker rate than that of Italy – but it has slowed down in the past two days