Editorial | Who thrives in a pandemic?
For all the misery that the COVID-19 virus has wrought upon the world, it is also being credited for swelling the worldwide ranks of billionaires since 2020.
Oxfam, the well-known UK charity, has revealed that a new billionaire was minted every 30 hours, on average, with some 573 people becoming billionaires at the height of the pandemic in the period 2020-2021.
The report also looked at the rise of inequality over the past two years, noting the dramatic growth in wealth being matched by an equally alarming increase in poverty. Oxfam is predicting hard times ahead for people living in extreme poverty, many of them jobless yet facing increased food bills, as well as higher electricity and fuel prices.
A snapshot of the pandemic’s impact on economies shows that many fortunes were bolstered by strong gains in stocks of companies making COVID-19 vaccines funded by nervous governments which opened the financial spigot to reverse the upending of their economies caused by COVID-19.
Pandemic billionaires emerged from the pharmaceutical sector as they chased the cash to be made from vaccines and antibody treatments, ventilators as well as masks, gloves, medical overalls and sanitisers.
Good performances were also recorded in the food and delivery business, gas and energy, as well as the technology sector, on the back of video conferencing, online classes and other tech tools, which made life in lockdown more liveable.
The fact is that what began as a health crisis quickly turned into an economic crisis. And while everyone was affected, some people suffered more. The Jamaican response to the pandemic that killed and sickened thousands included establishment of sites for testing and vaccinations. They popped up all over the country. In the absence of public assessment or scrutiny of these operations, it is hard to tell how profitable they have been. It is highly possibly, though, that some enterprising people in Jamaica did profit handsomely from the pandemic by way of stocks, pharmaceuticals and other related goods.
What is not in dispute is that the glaring inadequacies in the health sector were magnified as public healthcare institutions came under pressure with the sick spilling over into corridors or not even having the wherewithal to get to a medical facility. COVID-19 taught us about the great inequities in health.
When the pandemic drove students and teachers out of the classrooms, the majority found it difficult to cope with online classes because they were not digitally equipped with Internet access or tools to continue their education. COVID-19 taught us about the great inequities in education.
When the pandemic caused lockdowns and quarantines, many could not stock up on food and other necessities. COVID-19 taught us about the hand-to-mouth existence of our most vulnerable.
This virus has brought to public consciousness these inadequacies that must necessarily force our governments to respond with some urgency. Organisations such as Oxfam have recommended that a wealth tax be levied on the richest people in the world, to help the poor. Politicians tend to be reluctant to contemplate such measures, perhaps a little wary about biting the hands that feed them.
As COVID-19 slowly recedes in the rear-view mirror, policymakers and international organisations must be thinking about the changes that are critical to resilience and sustainability that need to be made before the next pandemic is upon us. To do nothing is to ensure that people mired in poverty will take desperate measures to survive, and this usually includes illegal activities which creates even more challenges for poor countries.