G20 summit ends with support for COVID-19 vaccine access for all

Crown Prince Mohammed on Sunday proposed holding two G20 summits annually in the future.
Monday 23/11/2020
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remotely addressing a press conference, at the G20 in Riyadh, on November 22, 2020. (AFP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remotely addressing a press conference, at the G20 in Riyadh, on November 22, 2020. (AFP)

RIYADH - Leaders of the world’s most powerful nations wrapped up the Group of 20 summit on Sunday, vowing to spare no effort to protect lives and ensure affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all people.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud rounded out the two-day summit, saying the G20’s final statement “succeeded in sending out a message of hope and reassurance to our citizens and all people around the world.”

“This is what the world has been expecting from us. This achievement today is a culmination of our joint efforts throughout this challenge-fraught year,” the Saudi monarch said.

Saudi Arabia presided over the G20 this year and was host of the virtual summit, which was originally intended to be held in-person in Riyadh before the pandemic. During the Saudi king’s speech, small video squares showed the leaders of Germany, France, the UK, Canada, South Korea, China, India and South Africa watching the final remarks. Trump participated in the summit with prerecorded speeches, but was not in attendance for the virtual summit’s conclusion.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz on Sunday proposed holding two G20 summits annually in the future: one virtually mid-year, and a second in-person at the end of the year.

It appeared all G20 countries agreed to the full content of the final statement with the exception of Turkey, which was due to give a press conference later Sunday explaining further.

— Access to vaccine —

The summit was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has wiped out hundreds of millions of jobs globally and plunged millions into extreme poverty.

The virus “revealed vulnerabilities in our preparedness and response and underscored our common challenges,” the G20 said in a final statement that focused heavily on battling the coronavirus, enhancing environmental protections and supporting the global economy.

The group vowed “to spare no effort to protect lives.”

The G20, which includes the wealthiest nations of the world, also stressed the importance of global access to COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests.

“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation,” the statement said.

The G20 expressed support for efforts like COVAX, an international initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide. The US, however, has declined to join under President Donald Trump.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters Sunday in Berlin after the virtual summit that Germany had given financial support to the COVAX initiative, but that more money was needed.

The G20 statement did not directly address an urgent appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said $28 billion in additional investment is needed for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new COVID-19 vaccines around the world, including $4 billion immediately.

There is also concern that countries such as Britain, the US, France and Germany have directly negotiated deals with pharmaceutical companies, meaning that the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply next year is already reserved.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in, in a video conference from Istanbul, November 22, 2020. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in, in a video conference from Istanbul, November 22, 2020. (AFP)

“Fortunately, there’s now hope for vaccines,” Merkel said, adding that “it is important that not only Europe secures vaccines, as the European Union is doing now, but … that it is important for the entire world” to have access to vaccines.

She said it is important that COVAX starts negotiating with the producers of potential vaccines based on the money it already has, but that she was somewhat worried those negotiations had not happened yet.

— Debt, climate change–

Delegates from the G20 had convened virtually throughout the year to discuss the coronavirus, agreeing to suspend debt payments for the world’s poorest nations until mid-2021 to allow those countries to focus their spending on health care and social support programmes. The G20 called on private lenders to join the effort.

Already, 46 countries have requested to benefit from the debt suspension initiative, amounting to $5.7 billion in debt referral. The UN secretary-general, however, has called on the G20 to extend debt repayments through the end of 2021 and expand the scope to middle-income countries in need.

G20 countries are allowing low-income countries with unsustainable debts to apply for permanent debt relief on a case-by-case basis.

In final remarks at the summit, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte laid out his country’s objectives for the G20 next year as it assumes the rotating presidency from Saudi Arabia.

“The existential threat, represented by climate change, soil degradation and by the decline of global biodiversity, has brought us to a crossroads, which will determine if we are able to save our planet and construct a sustainable future,” Conte said.

Conte said the pandemic will continue to be at the top of the group’s agenda and reiterated his support for universal access to vaccines.

Speaking on Sunday, Trump railed against the Paris climate accord, telling world leaders that the agreement was designed to cripple the US economy, not save the planet.

“To protect American workers, I withdrew the United States from the unfair and one-sided Paris climate accord, a very unfair act for the United States,” Trump said in a video statement from the White House.