G-20 summit ends with support for COVID-19 vaccines for all

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World leaders are participating in a virtual meeting of the G-20, hosted by Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Associated press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Leaders of the world’s most powerful nations concluded the Group of 20 summit on Sunday, pledging to spare no effort to protect lives and ensure affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all.

The two-day heads of state summit was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 1.38 million people globally, with the world’s highest death toll recorded in seven of the G-20 countries. The virus has wiped out hundreds of millions of jobs around the world and pushed millions into extreme poverty.

The virus “exposed vulnerabilities in our preparedness and response and highlighted our common challenges,” the G-20 said in a final statement that focused heavily on tackling the coronavirus, improving environmental protections and support of the global economy.

The group vowed “to spare no effort to protect lives.”

The G-20, which includes the US, India, China, UK, France, Germany, Japan and others, also stressed the importance of global access to COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests.

“We will spare no effort to ensure affordable and equitable access for all, in accordance with members’ commitments to encourage innovation,” the statement said.

The G-20 has expressed support for efforts like COVAX, an international initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. The United States, however, has refused to join President Donald Trump.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Sunday in Berlin after the virtual summit that Germany had provided financial support for the COVAX initiative, but more money was needed.

The G-20 statement did not directly respond to an urgent appeal from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said $ 28 billion in additional investment was needed for mass manufacturing, purchasing and the delivery of new COVID-19 vaccines to the world, including $ 4 billion immediately.

There are also concerns that countries like Britain, the United States, France and Germany have directly negotiated deals with pharmaceutical companies, which means that the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply next year is already booked.

“Fortunately, there is now hope for vaccines,” said Merkel, adding that “it is important that not only Europe secures vaccines, as the European Union currently does, but … that it is important for the whole world “to have access to vaccines. .

She said it was important for COVAX to start negotiating with potential vaccine producers based on the money it already has, but that she was somewhat worried that these negotiations had not yet taken place.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia closed the summit, saying the G-20’s final declaration “succeeded in sending a message of hope and comfort to our citizens and to all the peoples of the world.”

“This is what the world expects from us. Today’s achievement is the culmination of our joint efforts throughout this challenging year, ”said the Saudi monarch.

Saudi Arabia chaired the G-20 this year and hosted the virtual summit, which was originally scheduled to be held in person in Riyadh before the pandemic. During the Saudi King’s speech, small video boxes showed the leaders of Germany, France, UK, Canada, South Korea, China, India and the United Kingdom. South Africa looking at the final remarks. Trump attended the summit with pre-recorded speeches, but was not present for the conclusion of the virtual summit.

It appeared that all G-20 countries agreed on the full contents of the final declaration, except Turkey, which was due to give a press conference later on Sunday to explain further.

G-20 delegates had met virtually throughout the year to discuss the coronavirus, agreeing to suspend debt payments from the world’s poorest countries until mid-2021 to allow those countries to focus their spending on health care and social support programs. The G-20 called on private lenders to join the effort.

Already, 46 countries have applied to benefit from the debt suspension initiative, for a $ 5.7 billion debt referral. The UN secretary-general, however, called on the G-20 to extend debt repayment until the end of 2021 and expand the scope to middle-income countries in need.

G-20 countries allow low-income countries with unsustainable debt to apply for permanent debt relief on a case-by-case basis.

In his concluding remarks at the summit, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte outlined his country’s goals for the G-20 next year as he assumes the rotating presidency of Saudi Arabia.

“The existential threat, represented by climate change, land degradation and the decline of global biodiversity, has brought us to a crossroads, which will determine whether we are able to save our planet and build a sustainable future,” said said Conte.

Conte said the pandemic will continue to be high on the group’s agenda and reiterated his support for universal access to vaccines.