UK vows to share vaccines, but details thin as G-7 meets

LONDON (AP) — Some of the world’s wealthiest countries promised to share coronavirus vaccines with the poorest, but details of when and how many remained scarce as leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) economic powers held their first meeting of 2021 yesterday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, which holds the G-7 presidency this year, met virtually with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States (US) to discuss international challenges – chief among them the pandemic that has killed almost 2.5 million people around the world.

Wealthy nations snapped up hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines against the virus, while some countries in the developing world have little or none.

Johnson, whose country has had almost 120,000 coronavirus deaths, promised to give “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the United Nations (UN)-backed COVAX effort to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people, and encouraged other G-7 countries to do the same, the British government said.

But Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said it was “difficult to say with any kind of certainty” when or how much Britain could donate.

File photo of Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to South Wales Police Headquarters in Bridgend, Wales. PHOTO: AP

“We are not really able to give with certainty either a timescale or the numbers involved,” he told the BBC.

Anti-poverty group the One Campaign said Britain’s promise was not enough.

“The virus will not wait on us to be ready before it mutates, so we need to get these vaccines around the world as quickly as possible,” said Romilly Greenhill, the group’s United Kingdom (UK) director.

French President Emmanuel Macron gave a firmer target, saying Europe and the US should allocate up to five per cent of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the poorest countries “very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening”.

America’s G-7 allies are keen to impress US President Joe Biden at his first major multilateral engagement since taking office. They are hopeful that US re-engagement with the world following the “America first” years under Donald Trump will mean a more coordinated response on issues including COVID-19 and climate change.

Biden pledged to join the COVAX initiative, and the White House said he will emphasise the need for global coordination on vaccine production, distribution and supplies.

For Johnson, the G-7 presidency is a chance to demonstrate Britain is still a key global player following its exit from the European Union (EU), which became complete at the end of 2020.

A full G-7 summit is scheduled to take place in June at the Carbis Bay seaside resort in southwest England.

British officials are hopeful it can take place in person, though at a reduced scale because social distancing rules and other restrictions are likely still to be in place.