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The Wall Street Journal

May 18, 2021, 5:18 p.m. EDT

‘This has become the inequality virus’ — COVID-19’s next challenge is the growing divide between rich and poor economies

By Joe Parkinson in Johannesburg

Covid-19 is reopening a rift between economies in the world’s richest and poorest nations, driven by growth rates that are moving firmly in opposite directions.

In the U.S., economists are forecasting a return to boomtime growth levels of the “roaring 20s”; China’s economy expanded at a record 18.3% in the first quarter; and the U.K. is growing faster than at any time since the end of World War II.

Yet across the developing world, where people are largely unvaccinated and governments are unable to afford sustained stimulus measures, economies are falling further behind, struggling to rebound from last year’s record contraction.

The middle class in developing countries, a key engine of economic, educational and political development, is contracting rapidly, but it has barely been dented in the U.S. and China, according to the Pew Research Center. While the rapid U.S. rebound has already catapulted its economy back to growth, lower income countries will take years to return to 2019 levels.

An expanded version of this article appears on WSJ.com.

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