April 13 (UPI) -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the creation of a wealth tax on those who have profited during the COVID-19 pandemic as he warned global inequalities continue to grow as infections increase.
During his remarks Monday to the 2021 Economic and Social Council Forum on Financing for Development, Guterres said the wealth of the world's richest grew by $5 trillion in the past year and a tax would be a solution to reduce extreme inequalities, which have been exasperated amid the pandemic.
He warned world leaders that they are failing to combat the pandemic and that "no element of our multilateral response has gone as it should" as some 120 million have fallen sick to the virus, including around 3 million who have lost their lives, and the world has fallen into the worst recession in 90 years.
Guterres pointed to the vaccine effort as an example, stating as 10 countries account for around 75% of global vaccinations many still are unable to get shots in arms of their healthcare workers and vulnerable citizens.
He said this "vaccine hoarding" has come at a global cost of more than $9 trillion.
"The same lack of solidarity means that some countries have mobilized relief packages worth trillions of dollars while many developing countries face insurmountable debt burdens," he said, adding, "many governments face an impossible choice between servicing debt of saving lives."
To right this situation, Guterres called for vaccines to be available to all countries in need, to offer concessional financing to middle-income countries as well as low-income nations, to ensure funds go where they are required and to offer debt suspension, relief and liquidity to countries in need.
Guterres' call came as the World Health Organization warned that the pandemic was continuing to grow.
"We are in a critical point of the pandemic right now," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said during a press conference on Monday. "The trajectory of this pandemic is growing."
She said there have be more than 4.4 million new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the past week compared to about 500,000 cases the same time last year.
"It is growing exponentially," she said. "This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic where we have proven control measures. It is time now where everyone has to take stock and a reality check about what we need to be doing."
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during his opening remarks to the conference that in January and February, the world was experiencing a decline in infections -- a trend that has gone in the opposite direction in the past seven weeks of growing cases and four weeks of growing deaths.
The virus' growth comes despite more than 780 million vaccine doses having been administered, he said while urging for people to maintain social distancing, mask wearing, hygiene practices and other tools to ward off infections.
"They all work to stop infections and save lives," he said. "But confusion, complacency and inconsistency in public health measures and their application are driving transmission and costing lives."