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At G20 Summit, Pandemic Spurs Action
Media representatives listen to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman address a press conference at the G20 summit's Media Center in the capital Riyadh on November 22. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images)

At G20 Summit, Pandemic Spurs Action

Leaders agree to extend debt relief, advocate for access to pandemic supplies in developing world

International leaders at the G20 summit called on Sunday in a closing statement for COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related supplies to be distributed equitably to lower-income countries.

“We have mobilized resources to address the immediate financing needs in global health to support the research, development, manufacturing and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,” the Leaders’ Declaration said at the end of the two-day virtual summit on the coronavirus and its economic fallout.

“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation,” it said.

Earlier this month, the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, in conjunction with Germany’s BioNTech, announced that it had a coronavirus vaccine that was 90% effective. Last week, Moderna said that it had manufactured a vaccine with a 94.5% success rate. Pfizer later revised its efficacy rate even higher.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, generally referred to as MbS, noted the unifying impact of the virus.

“This pandemic knows no borders. It has reached all countries and affected [them], directly and indirectly…. In order to confront this global threat facing all of humanity, the G20 took the initiative to adopt unprecedented measures and coordinated actions to deal with the pandemic and its aftermath,” he said in the statement.

Some of these measures include what the crown prince called an “unprecedented G20 economic stimulus” of $11 trillion.

MbS also touted the continuation of the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative, which has so far provided $14 billion in debt relief for developing countries and their more than a billion inhabitants.

The G20 members are Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Spain has “permanent guest” status at G20 meetings. This year, Jordan, Singapore and Switzerland came as guest countries.

While US President Donald Trump participated in some sessions of the conference, he opted to play golf at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia while other leaders discussed pandemic-related issues.

Some countries supported measures unrelated to COVID-19, including the “Circular Carbon Economy” policy to help make renewable energy more financially accessible, as well as plans to preserve critical eco-systems. In addition, there was support for measures related to education and advancing economic prospects for women.

“The kingdom will continue to play a key role within the G20 to achieve global cooperation and find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges of the 21st century, in collaboration with our partners in the G20 and other countries,” Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the official host of the conference, said in a closing statement.

The pandemic overwhelmed calls by various human rights organizations and women’s groups for countries to boycott the conference over Saudi’s Arabia poor record in these spheres.

Riyadh has tried to improve its image as part as part of MbS’s Vision 2030 program, which is aimed at weaning the kingdom from oil as its sole source of income and therefore making the country more appealing to international business concerns.

MbS emphasized this in his speech, stating: “The Saudi G20 Presidency has focused its efforts to build a stronger, more resilient and more sustainable world. This is aligned with Saudi Arabia undergoing major economic and social transformation, guided by our Vision 2030, which aims to ensure that all of our citizens, especially women and youth, can seize the opportunities of the 21st century.”

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