3 million people died since the Omicron variant emerged, shattering perceptions that the pandemic is over
The COVID-19 death toll has been four times higher in lower-income countries than in rich ones, according to a new report published today by Oxfam on behalf of the People’s Vaccine Alliance as the world marks two years since the World Health Organization declared the pandemic.
While the pandemic has been devastating for rich countries like the US and the UK, the world’s poorest countries have been hardest hit, with women and children bearing a disproportionate burden. Lack of testing and reporting means that very large numbers of deaths due to COVID-19 go unreported, especially in the poorest countries. Modelling using measures of excess deaths estimates that 19.6 million people have died because of COVID-19, over three times the official death toll. Based on this analysis, Oxfam calculated that for every death in a high-income country, an estimated four other people have died in a low or lower-middle income country. On a per capita basis, deaths in low and lower middle-income countries are 31 percent higher than high income countries.
Oxfam also calculated that three million COVID-19 deaths have occurred in the three months since the Omicron variant emerged. The figure shatters perceptions that Omicron’s milder illness means the pandemic is coming to an end, as the more contagious variant tears through unvaccinated populations. By some estimates, over half of humanity is set to have been infected with COVID-19 by the end of March 2022. While most cases will be mild, the sheer number of cases means that numbers of deaths remain high.
The report also outlines that:
- Every minute, four children around the world have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID. In India alone, more than two million children lost a caregiver.
- Women have been 1.4 times more likely to drop out of the labour force than men because of the pandemic.
- 99 percent of humanity is worse off because of COVID-19, 160 million people have been pushed into poverty, and 137 million people have lost their jobs.
However, not everyone has lost out due to the pandemic, with a new billionaire created every 26 hours. Of those new billionaires, 40 are COVID-19 billionaires, having made their billions profiting from vaccines, treatments, tests, and personal protective equipment (PPE). During the pandemic, the world’s 10 richest men have seen their fortunes double, rising at a rate of $1.3 billion a day, or $15,000 dollars a second.
Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said: “After two years, we all want this pandemic to be over, but politicians in rich countries are exploiting that fatigue to ignore the devastating impact of COVID-19 that continues to this day.
“While incredibly effective vaccines provided hope, rich countries derailed the global vaccine rollout with nationalism, greed, and self-interest. Suggestions that we are entering a ‘post-COVID era’ ignore the continuing deaths in primarily lower-income countries that could be prevented by vaccines.”
Oxfam is part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of nearly 100 organisations, campaigning for vaccine equity through support for a waiver of intellectual property rules on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and by making pharmaceutical companies share their science and knowhow with qualified producers in developing countries, so they are able to make their own doses.
Maaza Seyoum, Global South Convenor for the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said: “Rich countries and corporations have tied up the global response to COVID-19 for their own benefit, leaving the Global South to bear the brunt of this pandemic.
“As billions of people are still unable to access vaccines, some have the audacity to claim that the pandemic is over. That is an utter fallacy. Third and fourth doses in rich countries alone cannot erase the ever-rising death toll in lower-income countries.
“The charity approach to global vaccination has failed. Global South countries can and must manufacture vaccines and treatments for themselves —and they must maintain control of their own supplies. Rich countries must waive intellectual property rules on COVID-19 technologies and force big pharma to share the recipes.”
The report, "Pandemic of Greed", warns that dangerous myths have fuelled the pandemic and excused a lack of bold and innovative policy action.
Gregg Gonsalves, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University, said: “While Omicron tends to lead to a milder illness in many, the variant’s higher transmissibility means it can cut a deadly swath through countries, particularly among the unvaccinated. We may all be done with the coronavirus, but the coronavirus is not done with all of us.
“There must be a better way out of the suffering of the past two years, a way where everyone had access to vaccines, and no one was disposable. Public health decisions must be based on comprehensive evidence, not political agendas.
“The ‘post-COVID’ narrative emerging from rich countries will only worsen the complacency that has plagued the global fight against COVID-19. The Global South understandably wants to take things into their own hands —and rich countries should let them.”
Notes to editors
Download Oxfam's report "Pandemic of Greed".
Download Oxfam's report "Pandemic of Greed".