World leaders vow to coordinate virus response in video call - Greater global action, solidarity and international cooperation needed

27, Mar 2020 |

We are at war with a virus — and not winning it

The head of the United Nations told leaders of the world’s 20 major industrialised nations during an emergency virtual summit Thursday that "we are at war with a virus — and not winning it” despite dramatic measures by countries to seal their borders, shutter businesses and enforce home isolation for well over a quarter of the world's population. 

The unusual video call in lieu of a physical gathering comes as governments around the world stress the importance of social distancing to curb the spread of the highly infectious virus, which has prompted closures, curfews and lockdowns globally. 

The Group of 20 nations, criticised for not taking cohesive action against the virus or its economic impact, vowed to work together and said they are collectively injecting more than USD 4.8 trillion into the global economy to counteract the social and financial impact of the pandemic.

In a final statement after the meeting, the G20 said they were committed to strengthening the World Health Organisation’s mandate. They said “global action, solidarity and international cooperation” were needed more than ever, but made no specific commitments. “The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities," the group said. “The virus respects no borders."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G20 leaders to adopt a war-time plan to tackle the pandemic. “It took the world three months to reach 100,000 confirmed cases of infection,” he said. “The next 100,000 happened in just 12 days. The third took four days. The fourth, just one and a half. This is exponential growth and only the tip of the iceberg.”

Guterres said that countries must be able to combine systematic testing, tracing, quarantining and treatment, as well as coordinate an exit strategy to keep it suppressed until a vaccine becomes available.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said later that the secretary-general, “thought the meeting was an important step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go for truly concerted and effective global leadership in response to this pandemic and its impact.”

The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the G20 leaders: “We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear us apart — if we let it.”

Saudi Arabia, which is presiding over the G20 this year, opened the meeting with an urgent appeal by King Salman for the world's most powerful nations to finance the research and development of a vaccine for the virus. “This human crisis requires a global response. The world counts on us to come together and cooperate in order to face this challenge," the Saudi monarch said. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced during the call that the UK was providing additional funding to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is supporting the development of vaccines, bringing its contribution to 250 million pounds (USD 302 million).

The meeting was not open to the media, and governments and organisations distributed the participants' comments after it concluded. 

President Donald Trump was shown seated at the end of a long conference table in Washington with other American officials in photos shared on social media by the Saudi Foreign Ministry. "We talked about the problem. And hopefully it won't be a problem for too much longer," Trump said about the call. "The United States is working with our friends and partners around the world to stop the spread of the virus.

The meeting also included Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was taking part in the summit from her apartment in Berlin where she is in quarantine after a doctor who gave her a pneumonia vaccine had tested positive for the virus. Two tests on Merkel have come back negative, but she'll still need more tests. Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested setting up a special fund under the IMF that would offer interest-free loans, and he emphasised the need to create “green corridors” for free movement of supplies and technologies intended to deal with the pandemic. He also proposed a moratorium on sanctions with regard to essential goods.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, whose country has been hardest-hit in Europe by COVID-19, said the G20 must use all fiscal and monetary policy tools to safeguard economies, “and national responses must be coordinated, enhancing their effectiveness.” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose country has also been hard hit, asked the G20 to work with the WHO and other organisations to do “whatever it takes” to contain the pandemic. He asked for an “unprecedented, robust and large scale” response.

The virtual summit additionally included leaders from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Labor Organisation and others.  IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva asked G20 leaders for their backing to double the fund's USD 50 billion emergency financing capacity. She said vulnerable households and businesses need targeted financial support to stay afloat and get back to work quickly. 

The International Labor Organisation says nearly 4 percent of the world’s population has no health insurance or access to national health services and that 55 percent — or 4 billion people — do not benefit from any form of social protection. It said the current health crisis makes clear that not nearly enough progress has been made by governments in the years since the 2008 financial crisis to expand access to health services, sickness benefits and unemployment protection.

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