DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The group at the 20th summit opened on Saturday with appeals from the world’s most powerful leaders to collectively chart a way forward as the coronavirus pandemic overshadows this year’s collection and transforms it from personal meetings into a virtual collection of speeches and statements.
As a sign of the times, the traditional “family picture” of the leaders at the summit was digitally designed and overlaid in a historic site just outside the Saudi capital, Riyadh, which would have hosted the collection. The Kingdom has presided over the G-20 this year.
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“We have a duty to take up the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and assurance,” King Salman of Saudi Arabia said in the opening remarks of the summit.
While G-20 countries have contributed billions of dollars to the development of a vaccine against the virus, they have also focused mostly on securing their own vaccine. supplies. Countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Germany – all G-20 member countries – have negotiated agreements directly with pharmaceutical companies to receive billions of doses, which means that the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply next year is already reserved.
A day before the summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that while $ 10 billion has been invested in vaccine development, diagnostics and therapy, a further $ 28 billion is needed for mass production, procurement and delivery of new COVID-19 vaccines. around the world.
Guterres called on several G-20 nations to join COVAX, an international initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. The United States has refused to participate under Trump.
The pandemic has had a far-reaching economic impact on developing countries, pushing millions into extreme poverty. It has also plagued the world’s richest nations with nine G-20 countries ranking highest globally for most cases of COVID-19 recorded. The United States tops the list, followed by India, Brazil, France, Russia, Spain, Britain, Argentina and Italy, according to a survey by Johns Hopkins University.
Three G-20 leaders attending the summit have been infected with coronavirus this year: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump.
The virus shows no signs of slowing as major cities in the US and Europe bring back lockdowns and curfews. The World Health Organization says more cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the last four weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic.
The International Labor Organization says there were 225 million full-time jobs in G-20 countries alone in Q3 2020. G-20 member countries represent about 85% of world economic output and three-quarters of international trade.
As part of the summit, seven leaders released video messages on “Pandemic preparedness and response”. French President Emmanuel Macron warned of the challenges of achieving “universal access to health technologies against COVID-19”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the strengthening of the World Health Organization and stressed that the pandemic can only be overcome if an affordable vaccine is available to all nations.
In a pre-summit video statement, Johnson called on global leaders to use the resources of the world’s richest nations to end the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle climate change.
“Our fate is in each other’s hands,” said Johnson, who plans to attend two virtual events at the summit, while isolating himself at home in London after being in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Bolsonaro, who spent months downplaying the severity of the virus as deaths rose sharply inside Brazil, stressed in a video message that world leaders “should take care of people’s health and economy at the same time.”
Meanwhile, President Trump, among other G-20 leaders, is expected to attend the virtual closed-door sessions taking place on Saturday and Sunday. It does not appear that any leaders have been dropped from the summit, despite calls from rights groups, lawmakers and EU parliamentarians for leaders to boycott the assembly to protest Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and war in Yemen.
G-20 heads of state gathered virtually virtually for an emergency meeting in March as the coronavirus spread rapidly around the world. At the time, they promised “to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.”
G-20 nations have since agreed to suspend debt payments to the world’s poorest countries until mid-2021 to allow those nations to focus their spending on health care and incentive programs. However, the UN Secretary-General has called on the G-20 to extend debt repayment by the end of 2021 and extend the scope to middle-income countries in need.
“I am convinced that the Riyadh Summit will bring significant and decisive results and lead to the adoption of economic and social policies that will restore hope and reassurance to the people of the world,” King Salman said.
Associated Press authors Danica Kirka in London and Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.