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Riyadh G-20 Summit: Global Leaders Focus on Coronavirus Pandemic



“No one expected that 1.6 billion students would be out of school,” Hamad al-Sheikh said. “No education system in the world had expected them to face a longer period of time when students would stay home in lockdowns.”

Leaders attending the summit represent nations that top the world in the rate of infection, including the United States, India, Brazil and France.

On Saturday, the first day of the summit, most world leaders stressed the need for greater global cooperation to ensure that vaccines against the virus are affordable and widely distributed, including in developing countries.

A notable exception was President Trump, whose contempt for multilateralism has been a hallmark of his time. In foreign remarks to the group, which he accompanied with a round of golf, Trump made no promise to expand the availability of U.S. vaccines, proclaiming his government̵

7;s record in fighting the virus, saying it had “marshaled all resources.”

On Sunday, Trump, who has weakened the rules aimed at reducing pollution generated by the United States, addressed a summit on the environment entitled “Safeguarding the Planet.” He called his government’s environmental protection record “historic” and attacked the Paris Climate Convention, from which the United States formally withdrew this month – becoming the first and only nation to do so.

“The Paris Agreement was not designed to save the environment. It was designed to kill the US economy, ”he said.

Even before his comments, expectations were low for the summit, an annual gathering of leaders for the world’s largest economies. The meeting was expected to complete a framework to provide debt relief to poor nations and promote international vaccine cooperation such as Covax, an effort linked to the World Health Organization seeking to expand vaccine distribution to developing countries.

The gathering also led to protests from Saudi and international human rights groups as well as some U.S. and European lawmakers calling on world leaders to boycott or downgrade their representation over the kingdom’s abuses, including prisons of female activists and the killing of Washington Post contributors. Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

No world leaders boycotted, but the remote collection also did not give Saudi Arabia the kind of platform it had sought to showcase its achievements. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s daily ruler and a lightning rod for criticism of human rights, was expected to address the assembly later on Sunday.

The World Bank has said the pandemic could drive as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty and turn two decades of steady progress in alleviating the suffering of the world’s poorest people. UNICEF has warned that unequal access to technology among students in poor countries threatens to “deepen the global learning crisis.”

Saudi Arabia, with almost unmatched financial resources, has been able to devote satellite channels to distance learning and has partnered with Microsoft to increase server space for online instruction, Education Minister Sheikh said. Education that “mixed” personal and distance learning would become the norm, even after the worst of the pandemic.

But “some countries do not have the ability to launch satellite stations,” he noted.


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