As the cost of essential goods rises faster than it has in decades, billionaires in the food and energy sectors are increasing their fortunes by $1 billion every two days, Oxfam reported Thursday.
For every new billionaire created during the pandemic — one every 30 hours — nearly a million people could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2022 at nearly the same rate, the new report “Profiting from Pain” reveals.
The report has been published as the World Economic Forum gathers in Davos.
“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes. The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them,” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.
“Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” she said.
The brief shows that 573 people became new billionaires during the pandemic, at the rate of one every 30 hours but that this year 263 million more people will crash into extreme poverty, at a rate of a million people every 33 hours.
Billionaires’ wealth increased more in the first 24 months of COVID-19 than in 23 years combined.
“Billionaires’ fortunes have not increased because they are now smarter or working harder. Workers are working harder, for less pay and in worse conditions. The super-rich have rigged the system with impunity for decades and they are now reaping the benefits. They have seized a shocking amount of the world’s wealth as a result of privatization and monopolies, gutting regulation and workers’ rights while stashing their cash in tax havens — all with the complicity of governments,” said Bucher.
“Meanwhile, millions of others are skipping meals, turning off the heating, falling behind on bills and wondering what they can possibly do next to survive. Across East Africa, one person is likely dying every minute from hunger. This grotesque inequality is breaking the bonds that hold us together as humanity. It is divisive, corrosive and dangerous. This is inequality that literally kills,” she said.
Oxfam’s new research also reveals that corporations in the energy, food and pharmaceutical sectors — where monopolies are especially common — are posting record-high profits, even as wages have barely budged and workers struggle with decades-high prices amid COVID-19.
Beijing life on hold for lockdowns, COVID testing
As cases of COVID-19 hit record daily highs, China is reimposing a range of strict measures under its “zero-COVID” policy, including lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having come into contact with the virus, AP reported.
The restrictions cover cities and towns from the southern manufacturing center of Guangzhou to Beijing in the north. While measures imposed in the Chinese capital have been less draconian than in other areas, normal life in the city has been severely disrupted, with no word yet on when restrictions will be lifted.
Along with the closure of hundreds of shops, restaurants, malls and office buildings, residential compounds have been sealed off to different degrees of severity. In some cases, all outside visitors and delivery people are banned, leaving residents to collect items at the gate. Authorities have issued notices asking residents not to leave home unless absolutely necessary or to buy groceries and seek medical help.
In some cases, fences or other barriers have been erected to control access. Entrances are guarded, sometimes by people in hazmat suits, to ensure only those with authorization can pass and that everyone scans the all-important health code to show they have a recent negative test result.
Those are obtained at one of the scores of testing stations set up outdoors across the city, where residents join often lengthy lines to undergo a nucleic acid test that entails having their IDs recorded and a swab taken from inside the mouth.
With so many people staying home, either voluntarily or under orders, the city’s streets are eerily quiet. Frustration with the harsh measures is growing across China, although Beijing has yet to see the sort of confrontations between residents, workers and the authorities that have recently occurred in other cities.
As the seat of the national government and ruling Communist Party, Beijing is being treated more delicately to ensure basic functioning and prevent the sort of rare protests seen in cities such as Shanghai, which underwent a harsh two-month lockdown in the spring.
Still, the city is tense and the stress is wearing on many of the 21 million residents, young and old, Chinese and foreign, who are all asking the same question: How much longer will these measures be in place?
China’s daily COVID-19 cases hit record high: Authorities
China’s daily Covid cases have hit a record high since the beginning of the pandemic, official data showed Thursday, as the country works to curb the spread with snap lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.
China recorded 31,454 domestic cases — 27,517 without symptoms — on Wednesday, the National Health Bureau said.
The numbers are relatively small when compared with China’s vast population of 1.4 billion, AFP reported.
But under Beijing’s strict zero-Covid policy, even tiny outbreaks can shut down entire cities and place contacts of infected patients into strict quarantine.
The unrelenting policy has caused fatigue and resentment among swathes of the population as the pandemic nears its third year, sparking sporadic protests and hitting productivity in the world’s second-largest economy.
Wednesday’s figures exceed the 29,390 infections recorded in mid-April when megacity Shanghai was under lockdown, with residents struggling to buy food and access medical care.
Hong Kong leader Lee isolating with COVID-19 after APEC trip
Hong Kong leader John Lee tested positive for the coronavirus after meeting with other regional leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand, the city’s government said Monday.
Lee tested negative throughout his four-day stay in Bangkok but his test upon his arrival at Hong Kong’s airport on Sunday night was positive, it said.
Lee is now in isolation and will work from home, according to a statement from the Chief Executive’s Office. Other officials at his office who went to Thailand with Lee all tested negative, AP reported.
Lee had a slight fever and a sore throat in the afternoon, the office said in a later statement.
Lee’s aim at the forum of Asia-Pacific economies was to promote Hong Kong’s image as the city reopens to the world after imposing severe COVID-19 restrictions for much of the pandemic.
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