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Pandemic has fuelled 'billionaire bonanza' as richest see fortunes double, says Oxfam

The world’s 10 richest men have seen their fortunes more than double during the coronavirus pandemic, making them richer than the world’s poorest 3.1 billion people combined, according to Oxfam.

The ranks of the super-rich have swelled during the pandemic thanks to ample financial stimulus that pumped up stocks, the anti-poverty organisation said.

Oxfam has called for governments to impose a one-time 99% tax on billionaires and use the money to fund production of vaccines for the poor – part of an effort to combat global inequality widened by the coronavirus pandemic.

A woman receives a booster dose of Covaxin in New Delhi

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Meanwhile, poor countries have suffered more than their share from COVID-19 because of unequal access to vaccines, which have mostly gone to rich nations.

Just over 7% of people in low-income countries have received a vaccine dose compared to more than 75% in high-income countries.

Oxfam has created its report ahead of discussions at the World Economic Forum’s online gathering of political and business leaders this week.

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“The pandemic has been a billionaire bonanza,” Oxfam International executive director Gabriela Bucher said.

“When governments did the rescue packages and pumped trillions into the economy and to financial markets in order to support the economy for all, what happened is a lot of it went into the pockets of the billionaires.”

Vaccine development has been one of the pandemic’s success stories but Ms Bucher said doses been “hoarded by the rich countries” seeking to protect pharmaceutical monopolies.

A one-off 99% tax on the 10 richest men’s pandemic windfalls could earn more than $800bn (£584bn) and be used to fund a vaccination expansion effort and other progressive social spending, the group said.

The money “would be able to pay for vaccines for the whole world, have health systems for everyone,” Ms Bucher said.

“We would also be able to compensate for the damage of climate change and have policies that address gender-based violence,” while still leaving the 10 billionaires $8bn (£5.85bn) richer than they were at the start of the pandemic, she added.

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WHO boss on global vaccine rollout

What are the disparities created by the pandemic?

The fortunes of the world’s 10 richest men – including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates – more than doubled to $1.5trn (£1.1trn), Oxfam said.

A new billionaire has been created every 26 hours since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile more than 160 million people are estimated to have been pushed into poverty during the health crisis.

What are the other disparities?

Inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,300 people each day – one person every four seconds, according to Oxfam’s report.

The wealthiest 1% of the world emits more than twice as much planet-warming carbon dioxide as the bottom 50%.

An estimated 5.6 million people in poor countries die each year due to lack of access to healthcare, while hunger kills
more than 2.1 million annually, the report said.

How has Oxfam worked out these figures?

Figures on the share of wealth come from the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth report.

Figures on the richest in society come from Forbes’ annual billionaires list which examines the value of individuals’ assets, mainly property and land but not their debts, wages or income.

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