The economic and public health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed existing inequalities between ethnic groups in England and Wales, as well as creating new ones. We draw on current mortality and case data, alongside pre-crisis labour force data, to investigate the relative vulnerability of different ethnic groups to adverse health and economic impacts. After accounting for differences in population structure and regional concentration, we show that most minority groups suffered excess mortality compared with the white British majority group. Differences in underlying health conditions such as diabetes may play a role; so too may occupational exposure to the virus, given the very different labour market profiles of ethnic groups. Distinctive patterns of occupational concentration also highlight the vulnerability of some groups to the economic consequences of social distancing measures, with Bangladeshi and Pakistani men particularly likely to be employed in occupations directly affected by the UK’s ‘lockdown’. We show that differences in household structures and inequalities in access to savings mean that a number of minority groups are also less able to weather short-term shocks to their income. Documenting these immediate consequences of the crisis reveals the potential for inequalities to become entrenched in the longer term.