Pressure increases on G20 countries to provide Covid vaccines to the poor

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ROME – From the first moments of the Group of 20 summit on Saturday, the leaders of the world’s largest economies wanted to send a strong message about the end of the coronavirus pandemic: in an unconventional group photo, they were joined on the platform by doctors in white coats and first responders from the Italian Red Cross.

In his opening remarks for the meeting – the first in-person gathering for the group since the start of the pandemic – Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi highlighted the sharp disparity in access to vaccines between rich and poor countries. .

“Going it alone is just not an option,” said Draghi, whose country is hosting the summit. Now, he added, the world could “finally look to the future with great – or with some – optimism.”

But as leaders gathered to discuss plans to protect against future pandemics, health experts and activists expressed concern that the world’s richest countries are still not doing enough to help people. poor countries to survive the present.

The advisers said that President Biden, who has pledged to make the United States a “vaccine arsenal,” would not announce concrete plans related to closing the gap between rich and poor countries on rates. vaccination. A senior administration official said Mr Biden met with a group of leaders earlier today and urged them to support debt relief and allow more emergency funding to reach poor countries including economies have been hit by the pandemic.

While rich countries are giving people third doses of the vaccine and inoculating more and more children, poor countries have administered about four doses per 100 people, according to the World Health Organization.

Mr Biden said in June that the United States would buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for the poorest countries. He continued in September by announcing an additional 500 million doses of Pfizer, as well as pledging an additional $ 750 million for vaccine distribution, about half of which is through a nonprofit involved in vaccinations. global.

Only around 300 million of those doses are expected to ship this year, a number that experts say is less than the amount needed for meaningful protection against the virus.

But the president’s advisers said he came to the top focusing on a host of issues, including fixing global supply chains, calling for investments to fight climate change and a meeting with leaders. French, British and German to discuss ways to return to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that the Trump administration scuttled.

Ahead of the meeting, Biden suggested to reporters that talks to revive the deal were “scheduled to resume.” But in a hurried release joint statement, the group appeared to put the brakes on the president’s assertion.

The statement said the leaders “welcome President Biden’s clearly demonstrated commitment to bring the United States back to full compliance” with the agreement and “remain in full compliance, as long as Iran does.”

On Saturday, Biden and other world leaders approved a landmark global deal that seeks to prevent large corporations from shifting profits and jobs across borders to avoid taxes – a victory for the president, whose administration went out of his way to get the deal across the finish line. .

Leaders were expected to formally back the deal in a statement to be released on Sunday, an administration official said.

But health experts and influential advocates, including Pope Francis, have urged Biden on his trip to stay focused on reducing the vaccine deficit for poor countries, which are particularly vulnerable to the virus and its variants.

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told Air Force One reporters on their way to Rome that “the main focus of the effort on Covid-19 is not really crossing the G20.” He said that a virtual summit which Biden called in September had set “more ambitious goals” for countries to commit to sharing doses of the vaccine.

Although Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is due to host a meeting of dozens of countries and non-governmental organizations this year to secure commitments on vaccine sharing, Sullivan said the Group of 20 is focusing on the future.

“You really have a failed leadership in developed countries after Covid,” said Célia Belin, visiting foreign policy researcher at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. “It’s going to have consequences. “

Indeed, offering doses of vaccines to developing countries is more than an altruistic gesture on the part of rich nations. The more the virus continues to circulate around the world, the more likely it is to continue producing deadly variants, making it more difficult to end the pandemic and vulnerable both rich and poor.

Since arriving in Rome, Mr Biden has already heard a personal call to do more: In a meeting at the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis pushed the president on the issue, a senior official said afterwards.

And in an open letter to the Group of 20, World Health Organization chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged leaders of the world’s largest economies “to help stem the pandemic by expanding access to healthcare. vaccines and other tools for the population. and the places where these are rarest.

As the summit began it also drew a mix of protesters – laid-off factory workers, climate activists, anti-globalization activists, unions, feminist groups, communists and some vaccine skeptics.

“There will be many of us,” said Gino Orsini, representative of the Si Cobas union, one of the organizers of a demonstration scheduled for Saturday to coincide with the rally. The group protests against what it says is the exploitation of workers by the international elite.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Group of 8 summit organized by Italy in the city of Genoa, in the north of the country, which was marred by riots. It is also a moment of tension between the authorities and opponents of the Italian government’s demands for vaccination against the coronavirus, which has given rise to violent clashes.

“The level of attention is maximum,” said Giovanni Borrelli, a local government official, adding that 5,500 additional law enforcement officers were deployed over the weekend.

Emma Bubola contributed reports.


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