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World Bank chief says vaccine rollout critical for poorer countries

World Bank President David Malpass on Wednesday, January 13, warned that an accelerated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines would be critical to boosting economic activity in advanced economies and preventing a further drop in expected economic activity in 2021.

The World Bank last week forecast the global economy would expand by 4% this year, less than previously expected, but said rising COVID-19 inflections and delays in vaccine distribution could limit the recovery to just 1.6% this year.

Malpass told the Reuters Next conference he was hopeful that the vaccine rollout could be sped up in advanced economies, citing moves underway in some key US states. That would also help boost growth in poorer countries, he said.

"If it were only 1% growth in 2021, that would be very bad for people at the bottom," he said, adding that advances in richer economies were critical since poorer countries rely heavily on export markets and remittances.

Malpass said urgent actions were needed by global leaders to address problems facing poorer countries ranging from education to public health, heavy debt burdens, and a lack of investment.

"Inequality was getting worse even before COVID, and [the pandemic] is contributing quite a bit to making that problem even more troubling," Malpass said.

He said access to vaccines was a big problem facing many in developing countries, not least due to legal issues such as personal liability questions.

"The poorer you are, the harder it is to get access," Malpass told Reuters after the conference. "Everyone seems to be agreeing that there needs to be a fair distribution of the vaccine, but then the hard part starts."

The World Bank is working closely with over 100 countries to help them access $12 billion in low-interest loans available to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, Malpass told reporters last week.

The first agreements are expected to be approved in late January or early February. – Rappler.com