The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the start of the annual G20 summit of world leaders hosted this year by Saudi Arabia.
Delegates are having to attend virtually because of COVID-19 contagion fears, and it is the pandemic that is the key issue on the minds of many speakers, specifically the swift worldwide availability of vaccines.
“Russia supports the key decision of this summit, the project directed at ensuring access to effective and safe (COVID) vaccines to all,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told delegates via video. “Without a doubt, immunisation drugs should be the property of all of humanity. Our country of Russia is ready to provide countries in need with vaccines developed by our scientists”.
Putin’s thoughts were echoed by the Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, but he widened the subject, calling for a broader coordinated response to manage the pandemic.
“We need targeted investments aimed at the struggling healthcare systems worldwide while supporting environmental and social resilience and avoiding further economic disruption,” he explained, adding “It’s a daunting task, but Italy is ready to play its part”.
Virus still sweeping across the world
The virus shows no signs of abating as major cities in the US and Europe bring back lockdowns and curfews. The World Health Organization (WHO) says more cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past four weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic.
A day before the summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that while $10 billion (€8.43 billion) has been invested in efforts to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, another $28 billion (€23.62 billion) is needed for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
He called on more G20 nations to join COVAX, an international initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide.
The United States has declined to join under Donald Trump, who said COVAX was “influenced by the “corrupt WHO and China”.
There have been raised voices over Saudi Arabia hosting the conference given accusations over its human rights record, but leaders’ comments so far have shown the COVID-19 pandemic remains the overriding priority.