San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday)
G20 summit leaders urge united response to virus
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Group of 20 summit opened on Saturday with appeals by the world’s most powerful leaders to collectively chart a way forward as the coronavirus pandemic overshadows this year’s gathering, transforming it from inperson meetings to a virtual gathering of speeches and declarations.
In a sign of the times, the traditional “family photo” of leaders in the summit was digitally designed and superimposed on a historical site just outside the Saudi capital, Riyadh, which would have hosted the gathering this year.
The pandemic, which has claimed more than 1.3 million lives worldwide, has offered the G20 an opportunity to prove how such bodies can facilitate international cooperation in crises — but has also underscored their shortcomings.
“We have a duty to rise to the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and reassurance,” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said in the summit’s opening remarks.
While G20 countries have contributed billions of dollars toward developing a vaccine for the virus, they have also mostly focused on securing their own vaccine supplies. Countries such as Britain, the U.S., France and Germany — all G20 member states — have directly negotiated deals with pharmaceutical companies to receive billions of doses, meaning that the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply next year is already reserved.
A day before the summit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that while $10 billion has been invested in efforts to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, another $28 billion is needed for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new COVID19 vaccines around the world.
Guterres called on more G20 nations to join COVAX, an international initiative to distribute COVID19 vaccines to countries worldwide. The United States has declined to join under President Trump.
As part of the summit, seven leaders released video messages on “Pandemic Preparedness and Response.” France’s President Emmanuel Macron warned of the challenges in obtaining “universal access to health technologies against COVID19.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for strengthening the World Health Organization and stressed the pandemic can only be overcome if an affordable vaccine is available to all nations.
In a video statement released ahead of the summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed to global leaders to harness the resources of the world’s wealthiest nations to end the COVID19 pandemic and tackle climate change.
Trump, meanwhile, told his counterparts that any American who wants the vaccine will be able to get it, and singled out American producers Pfizer Inc., whose vaccine has been developed along with a German company, and Moderna Inc., Bloomberg News reported, citing officials who asked not to be named discussing the talks, which weren’t open to the press.
Trump praised American leadership, claiming credit for what he said was an efficient fight against the virus and success in bolstering the nation’s economy. But he said nothing about granting access to American vaccines by the rest of the world.
G20 heads of state last gathered virtually for an emergency meeting in March as the coronavirus was fastspreading around the world. At the time, they vowed “to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.”
G20 nations have since agreed to suspend debt payments for the world’s poorest countries until mid2021 to allow those nations to focus their spending on health care and stimulus programs. The U.N. secretary general, however, has called on the G20 to extend debt repayments through the end of 2021 and expand the scope to middleincome countries in need.