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World’s ten richest people gained enough wealth to buy COVID vaccines for all

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The world’s 10 richest people added enough money to their fortunes last year to buy COVID-19 vaccines for every person on the planet, a new report says.

British anti-poverty organization Oxfam included the stunning finding in a wide-ranging report to illustrate how the pandemic has widened the divide between the rich and the poor.

“Rigged economies are funneling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the frontline of the pandemic — shop assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors — are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table,” Oxfam International executive director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement.

The 10 richest billionaires saw their collective wealth increase by $540 billion from March 18 — around the time the coronavirus caused a historic crash in global stock markets — through Dec. 31, according to Oxfam’s analysis of Forbes wealth data.

That’s more than enough to cover the estimated $141.2 billion cost of producing, distributing and delivering COVID-19 vaccines for the entire global population, the nonprofit said in its Monday report.

Tthe billionaires could also use their added wealth to prevent anyone from falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic — which Oxfam says would cost about $88 billion for a year — and still end up with a gain, according to the report.

Billionaires such as Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, Tesla boss Elon Musk and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg saw their fortunes explode last year as the stock market staged a record-setting rebound from its pandemic-induced crash.

A healthcare worker at the Jackson Health Systems receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine.A Florida healthcare worker at the Jackson Health Systems receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Their gains offered a sharp contrast to the massive job losses and economic contractions that resulted from the virus and efforts to control it. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expects the global economy to have shrunk by 4.2 percent last year thanks to the pandemic.

Oxfam urged world leaders to address these inequities by increasing corporate taxes, closing tax havens and expanding social welfare programs.

The group released the recommendations on the first day of the World Economic Forum’s annual Davos conference, which is being held virtually this year.

“Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice,” Bucher said.