Group of Seven leaders, who control a little under half of the world’s economy, have pledged billions of dollars to COVAX, a United Nations coronavirus vaccination programme for poorer countries.
US President Joe Biden and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi debuted at the G7 virtual leaders’ meeting on Friday which was chaired by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Johnson promised to free up any surplus UK vaccines for poorer countries at a future date, and underlined the need for collective action to recover from the pandemic, which has killed 2.4 million people, tipped the global economy into its worst peacetime slump since the Great Depression and upended normal life for billions.
“We’ve got to make sure the whole world is vaccinated because this is a global pandemic and it’s no use one country being far ahead of another, we’ve got to move together,” he said in opening the virtual summit.
At the G7, Biden pledged $4bn (3.3bn euros) in US aid to the COVAX fund to buy vaccines for global distribution.
Germany said it was giving an extra 1.5 billion euros for the global rollout, and the European Union doubled its own COVAX funding to one billion euros.
The total in G7 commitments stands at 7.5 billion euros, the group said in a joint statement following the talks.
UN health chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the G7’s move in stepping up their support for COVAX.
“Without global solidarity this virus cannot be defeated,” the World Health Organization (WHO) leader told the Munich Security Conference via video-link from Geneva.
Leaving poorer countries without immunisation will allow the coronavirus to mutate, and vaccines will become less effective, Tedros said.
“We could end up back at square one,” the WHO chief warned.
Focus on economic recovery
The leaders also sought to look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic towards rebuilding their battered economies .
They called for stronger defences against a future pandemic, including exploring a global health treaty, but the focus was on a green recovery – on the same day that the United States rejoined the Paris climate agreement.
“Jobs and growth is what we’re going to need after this pandemic,” Johnson told the opening of the meeting.
An official communique said the G7 would champion open economies, “data free flow with trust” and work on “a modernised, freer and fairer rules-based multilateral trading system”.
There was no direct reference to Facebook, which recently cut news feeds in Australia.
Leaders also supported the commitment of Japan to hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.
In a clear reference to China, G7 leaders said they “will consult with each other on collective approaches to address non-market oriented policies and practices”.
But the tone of the G7 was distinctly cooperative and collective – as Biden tried to project a message of re-engagement with the world and with global institutions after four years of Donald Trump’s “America first” policies.
Biden’s participation in both the G7 and Munich meetings heralds “a broad-ranging, confident, clarion call to have the Transatlantic alliance and partnership stand up together”, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.
The G7 of the US, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada has a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of about $40 trillion – a little less than half of the global economy.