VENICE, Italy — The International Monetary Fund took a step on Friday toward easing widening global inequality and helping poor nations access vaccines, saying that its executive board approved a plan to issue $650 billion worth of reserve funds, which countries can use to purchase vaccines, finance health care and pay down debt.
The decision comes at a pivotal moment as Covid-19 infections continue to spread among populations that have not been inoculated and as more contagious variants of the virus are posing new health threats. The pandemic has drained the fiscal resources of poor countries over the past year and the I.M.F. projected this week that faster access to vaccinations for high-risk populations could save 500,000 lives in the next six months.
The new allocation of so-called Special Drawing Rights would be the largest such expansion of currency reserves in the I.M.F.’s history. If given final approval by the I.M.F.’s board of governors, as is expected, the reserves could become available by the end of next month.
“This is a shot in the arm for the world,” Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the I.M.F., said in a statement. “The S.D.R. allocation will help every I.M.F. member country — particularly vulnerable countries — and strengthen their response to the Covid-19 crisis.”
Ms. Georgieva made the announcement as finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of 20 nations were gathering in Venice to discuss international tax…