G20 throws weight behind global COVID-19 vaccine access at summit

RIYADH (AFP) – G20 nations emphasised the need for global access to coronavirus vaccines at a Saudi-hosted virtual summit on Saturday dominated by efforts to tackle the pandemic and the worst global recession in decades.

World leaders, including United States (US) President Donald Trump who is refusing to concede a bitter election, popped up in multiple windows across a flickering screen, in a high-stakes webinar held amid the raging pandemic.

The leaders are huddling online for the two-day gathering as international efforts intensify for a large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and as calls grow for G20 nations to plug a USD4.5-billion funding shortfall.

“Although we are optimistic about the progress made in developing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics tools for COVID-19, we must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all people,” said Saudi King Salman, the summit’s host.

“We have a duty to rise to the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and reassurance to our people by adopting policies to mitigate this crisis,” he told world leaders in opening remarks.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke of the need to build a “global firewall against COVID-19” as he called on G20 nations to help distribute vaccines “fairly and efficiently”, according to state news agency Xinhua.

And French President Emmanuel Macron said the health crisis was “a test for the G20”, stressing there “will be no effective response to the pandemic unless it is a global response”.

As the trailblazing event got under way, there had been some early quirks, with someone heard telling King Salman that “the whole world is watching” before the event started and Xi apparently having to call for technical help.

With Saudi hopes for a grand coming-out parade dashed due to the pandemic, the event has been reduced to brief online sessions of what observers call “digital diplomacy”.

Despite having to abandon much of the usual summit pageantry, Saudi Arabia launched the meeting with an aerial acrobatics display over Riyadh.

Along with Xi and Macron, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also addressed the summit, where sources said climate change was among the issues topping the agenda.