Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A government spokesman said it was working "incredibly hard" to protect the nation's public health

A leading doctor has called on the government to address regional health inequalities surrounding coronavirus.

Dr George Rae, the British Medical Association's regional chairman for the North East, has written an open letter saying the area is "suffering disproportionately".

He said it was "time to ask why" and wanted action to "close the gap".

A government spokesman said it was working "incredibly hard" to protect the nation's public health.

When Dr Rae's letter was published on Monday morning, figures showed 7,174 people in the North East had tested positive for the disease - a rate of infection of 270 cases per 100,000 people, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

'Reduce vulnerability'

"This is gravely disconcerting," Dr Rae wrote.

"Not only does this mean that we're suffering from a disproportionate amount of serious cases and deaths but also that, as a consequence, gradual lockdown measures may be affected - prolonging the hurt caused to our local economy.

"Covid-19 has shone a light on the health inequalities in the North East.

"What we need now is action from the government to close this gap and reduce the vulnerability of people in the North East to many medical conditions and, indeed, any future viruses."

A government spokesman said: "Any death from this disease is a tragedy and we are working incredibly hard, day and night, to protect the nation's public health.

"We have commissioned urgent work from Public Health England to understand the different factors that may influence the way someone is affected by this virus [and] will set out full details in due course.

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