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As the poor die, suffer from COVID, rich get richer, Oxfam warns

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A pedestrian wearing a face mask delivers food to a homeless person sleeping in the entrance of a shop, closed due to coronavirus restrictions, in central London, on December 23, 2020.(Photo by AFP)

The coronavirus pandemic has made the rich much richer while the income of the rest of world – nearly 99% of humanity – has declined, a new Oxfam report titled “Inequality Kills” says.

The wealth of the world’s 10 richest men doubled from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion during the outbreak, which has contributed to the death of at least 21,300 people per day globally, according to the report released Monday by the international charity group.

“We enter 2022 with unprecedented concern,” the report warns, insisting that the current global state of extreme inequality is a form of “economic violence” against the world’s poorest people and nations.

“Millions of people would still be alive today if they had had a vaccine — but they are dead, denied a chance while big pharmaceutical corporations continue to hold monopoly control of these technologies,” it further underlined, highlighting the COVID-19 vaccine divide as a key precedent.

Structural and systemic policy and political choices are skewed in favor of the richest and most powerful, resulting in harm to the majority of ordinary people around the world, the report also emphasized.

The report further calculates that 252 men have more wealth than all one billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined, while 10 of the world’s wealthiest men own more than the least affluent 3.1 billion people.

Additionally, as the rich got a whole lot richer during the pandemic, the incomes of 99 percent of humanity suffered miserably.

It also stressed that growing inequality, made worse by the pandemic, is sure to cause additional tensions, resentments and further complicate nations’ responses to climate change, economic disparities and social instabilities.

“These present-day divides are directly linked to historical legacies of racism, including slavery and colonialism,” the Oxfam report underlined.

It further notes that since 1995, the world’s top one-percenters have captured nearly 20 times more of global wealth than the bottom 50 percent, insisting that the pandemic has made things much worse.

According to the report, the wealth of billionaires climbed even more and a new billionaire was minted every 26 hours since the pandemic began compared to the last 14 years.

The CEOs of COVID vaccine-developers Moderna and BioNTech made billions in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, it noted, adding that at the same time, the vast majority of the population remains worse off after losing income during COVID-19, and 160 million more people fell into poverty.

Oxfam, meanwhile, argues that governments have the power to radically change course and blunt “economic violence” at its roots by laying the foundation for a more equal world.

“It has never been so important to start righting the violent wrongs of this obscene inequality by clawing back elites’ power and extreme wealth including through taxation — getting that money back into the real economy and to save lives,” Oxfam’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher emphasized.

A good start, the report says, is to impose a one-off windfall tax on the COVID-19 gains of the 10 richest men, which would generate $812 billion.

 “These resources could pay to make enough vaccines for the entire world and fill financing gaps in climate measures, universal health and social protection, and efforts to address gender-based violence in over 80 countries,” it then pointed out.

Even after the tax, the world’s 10 richest men would still be billionaires and as a group, would have increased their wealth by $8 billion from the start of the pandemic, the report explained.

“If these ten men were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people on this planet,” Bucher further argued.

Oxfam’s report is usually released just prior to the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland – but the gathering of the world’s richest and most powerful has been postponed again this year due to the pandemic.

Last week, WEF released its Global Risks Report 2022 warning that the lopsided economic recovery from the pandemic -- much of which has relied on the roll-out of vaccinations -- has deepened divisions within and between nations.

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