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G20 leaders meet online to grapple with Covid-19 fallout

Leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies on Saturday called for stronger international cooperation as the world tackles economic repercussions from the coronavirus pandemic as well as fair access to vaccines.

Cairo, 22 November 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies on Saturday called for stronger international cooperation as the world tackles economic repercussions from the coronavirus pandemic as well as fair access to vaccines.

Saudi King Salman, whose country hosted the online summit as part of its presidency of the bloc, urged the G20 leaders to address the vulnerabilities resulting from the pandemic.

“In the near future, we must address vulnerabilities exposed by this crisis while protecting lives and livelihoods,” he said via a videoconference.

Salman called for coordinated support for developing countries suffering from the economic fallout from the pandemic, saying that this was crucial in maintaining the development they had achieved over past decades.

In March, the G20 leaders vowed to coordinate their response to the pandemic. Since then, they have collectively injected 11 trillion dollars to mitigate the impact on the global economy.

The group has also launched a debt suspension initiative for the least developed countries that would allow the beneficiaries to defer 14 billion dollars in debt payments due this year.

Salman also called for a Covid-19 vaccine to be made accessible to all people in a “fair manner and at affordable cost,” a point that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also emphasized in his address.

The G20 needs to “prepare mechanisms that will guarantee a fair access and affordable use of the vaccine for everyone,” Erdogan said.

Turkey is following closely the “promising” vaccine development by a German firm, he added, in a reference to BioNTech, which is cooperating with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on a vaccine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on G20 partners to bolster the Covax vaccine initiative with financial contributions, on top of the almost 5 billion dollars that have already been made available to the initiative.

“If we stand together worldwide, we can control and overcome the virus and its consequences. This is also worth more effort,” Merkel said in a pre-recorded video message.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also called for greater financial support for the global initiative to deal with the pandemic, of which Covax is a part, to enable coronavirus tests, treatments and vaccinations worldwide.

She called for a further 4.5 billion dollars to be made available for the ACT Accelerator coordination platform by the end of the year.

Von der Leyen also pointed out that she wanted to organize a world health summit with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte next year as part of Italy’s G20 presidency.

“We will discuss the lessons from the crisis in order to better protect humanity from pandemics in the future,” she explained.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was willing to make Sputnik V, its domestically manufactured coronavirus vaccine, widely available in an effort to bring the pandemic to bay.

Russia’s three different vaccines will all be made available to countries in need, he told the summit.

China is prepared to cooperate with other nations in the research, development, production and distribution of a vaccine to help fight the pandemic, President Xi Jinping told the G20.

He said one of his main goals would be to make sure that vaccines are a “public good” for developing countries.

He also spoke about the need to pursue multilateralism, openness and cooperation at the G20 level, which many took as a subtle dig at the ‘America First’ policies of US President Donald Trump.

Trump took part in the conference, but left less than two hours after it started and headed to a golf course, according to reporters travelling with him.

Trump spent the first hour tweeting about domestic issues that had little to do with the conference.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called on the G20 countries to ensure a “fair distribution” of Covid-19 vaccines worldwide.

This is necessary for containing the pandemic and for a faster recovery of the global economy, Tedros told the heads of state and government.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, who took part as a guest, stressed the need to protect vulnerable communities around the world, including refugees. He also said that Jordan’s pharmaceutical sector can contribute to mass production of a vaccine and distribution efforts.

Dubbed the Riyadh summit, the event marks Saudi Arabia’s first time managing the presidency of G20, which brings together 19 countries and the European Union.

Travel restrictions and health precautions due to the pandemic mean that Riyadh missed out on hosting the first in-person G20 summit in the Arab world.

The G20 encompasses two thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global economic output and 75 per cent of world trade.

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