(ATF) Leaders of the world’s biggest economies have vowed to help poor countries get fair access to Covid-19 vaccines.
“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivise innovation,” the leaders said in a joint statement.
“We recognise the role of extensive immunisation as a global public good.”
The pledge came at a virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia on Saturday and Sunday. It followed a plea by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who warned on Friday that “the developing world is on the precipice of financial ruin and escalating poverty, hunger and untold suffering” because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We cannot let the Covid pandemic lead to a debt pandemic,” Guterres told reporters.
He has been pushing for the G20 to extend and expand debt suspension to help developing and middle-income economies recover from the pandemic and for the allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDR) and a voluntary reallocation of existing Special Drawing Rights.
“I am pushing for a further extension through the end of 2021 and, critically, to expand the scope of these initiatives to all developing and middle-income countries in need,” Guterres said.
The twin crises of the pandemic and an uneven, uncertain global recovery dominated the first day of a two-day summit under the chairmanship of Saudi Arabia, which hands off the rotating presidency of the G20 to Italy next month.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has thrown the global economy into a deep recession this year, and efforts needed to underpin an economic rebound in 2021, were at the top of the agenda.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz gives is seen during the opening session of the 15th annual G20 Summit of World Leaders, in Riyadh on November 21, 2020. Photo: Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/ Reuters.
“We must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all peoples,” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz said in his opening remarks.
G20 leaders are concerned that the pandemic might further deepen global divisions between the rich and the poor.
“We need to avoid at all costs a scenario of a two-speed world where only the richer can protect themselves against the virus and restart normal lives,” French President Emmanuel Macron told the summit.
To do that, the European Union urged G20 leaders quickly to put more money into a global project for vaccines, tests and therapeutics – called Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator – and its COVAX facility to distribute vaccines.
“At the G20 Summit I called for $4.5 billion to be invested in ACT Accelerator by the end of 2020, for procurement & delivery of Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines everywhere,” European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.
“We need to show global solidarity,” she said.
Germany was contributing more than 500 million euros ($592.65 million) to the effort, Chancellor Angela Merkel told the G20, urging other countries to do their part, according to a text of her remarks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to provide Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to other countries and said Moscow was also preparing a second and third vaccine.
China, where the pandemic originated a year ago, also offered to cooperate on vaccines. China has five home-grown candidates for a vaccine undergoing the last phase of trials.
“China is willing to strengthen cooperation with other countries in the research and development, production, and distribution of vaccines,” President Xi Jinping told the G20 Summit.
“We will … offer help and support to other developing countries, and work hard to make vaccines a public good that citizens of all countries can use and can afford,” he said.
US President Donald Trump, who lost the US presidential election but has refused to concede to former Vice President Joe Biden, addressed G20 leaders briefly before going to play golf. He discussed the need to work together to restore economic growth, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a summary released late on Saturday.
She made no mention of any US pledge to support the global vaccine distribution effort. One European source said Trump’s remarks were focused on what he described as an unprecedented US recovery and the US drive to develop its own vaccines.
International treaty proposed
To prepare for future outbreaks, the EU is proposing a treaty on pandemics. “An international treaty would help us respond more quickly and in a more coordinated manner,” European Council President Charles Michel told the G20.
While the global economy is recovering from the depths of the crisis, momentum is slowing in countries with resurgent infection rates and the pandemic is likely to leave deep scars, the International Monetary Fund said in a report for the summit.
To address the debt crisis, the G20 heads planned to extend the freeze in debt service payments by the poorest countries to mid-2021 and endorse a common approach for dealing with debt problems beyond that, the draft communique said.
World Bank President David Malpass warned the G20 that failing to provide more permanent debt relief to some countries now could lead to increased poverty and a repeat of the disorderly defaults of the 1980s.
The G20 debt relief initiative has helped 46 countries defer $5.7 billion in debt service payments, but that is far short of the 73 countries that were eligible, and promised savings of around $12 billion. Private sector participation is seen as critical to ensuring broader use of the initiative.
Debt relief for Africa will be an important theme of the Italian presidency of the G20 in 2021.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP