By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) - The coronavirus mortality rate among some of the poorest Catalans is five times higher than among the wealthiest residents of the Spanish region, a study showed, in the latest evidence of how COVID-19 hits the needy hardest.

The northeastern region of Catalonia, which makes up a sixth of Spain's 47 million population, has the second highest number of registered coronavirus cases and deaths among regions.

Spain has been one of the worst-hit countries with nearly 28,000 deaths.

The study by a regional health department institute cross-checked Catalonia's coronavirus cases and fatalities up to May 7 against age and incomes.

In the 45-64 age range, the study showed a mortality rate of 100 per 100,000 men in the lowest income group, while in the wealthiest group the rate dropped to 20 deaths.

Although deaths were much lower among women, the gap between the groups was the same: 50 deaths versus 10.

The gap was slimmer in the 65-79 age range, with a male mortality rate of around 500 per 100,000 in the poorest group versus 250 in the wealthiest. Among women, the difference was of approximately 300 deaths versus 100 between both groups.

For those above 79 years old, the rate among men was around 2,830 deaths per 100,000 in the poorest group and 1,910 in the wealthiest. Among women it was 1,360 versus 1,090.

The study did not analyse the reason for the differences.

"When the pandemic ends, we will need to analyse all the figures and reach conclusions that help design health policies," Anna Garcia-Altes, director of the Health Inequalities Observatory that conducted the study, said in a statement.

The data echoes similar studies in other Western nations that have shown that poorer citizens, as well as non-white ethnic groups, have been worse hit by the coronavirus which has killed more than 330,000 people and infected 5.2 million worldwide.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Andrew Cawthorne)

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