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Discussions on how to fight the coronavirus pandemic and how to deal with the global economic damage it is causing dominated the Group of 20 summit, which began on Saturday and is practically hosted by Saudi Arabia.
In private sessions, the heads of state of the 19 richest countries in the world and the European Union spoke about how to ensure an even distribution of vaccines and possible debt relief for the poor countries affected by the virus.
“We must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these instruments for all people,” said 84-year-old King Salman of Saudi Arabia during his opening speech on vaccines and treatments. “At the same time, we need to better prepare for future pandemics.”
The pandemic has reached new proportions worldwide, killing more than 1.3 million people. The 7-day average of new infections every day was over 578,000 on Friday, twice as high as two months ago. The major economies collapsed in the first half of the year, improved in late summer, and then fell again in a fresh surge in virus cases. The strains of the disaster – from failed businesses and increased unemployment to educational disruptions and rising global poverty – are likely to linger for years.
A day before the summit, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres spoke from New York and urged leaders to ensure that vaccines are made available to people around the world, not just the rich countries that are have already reserved a large part of the vaccine supplies. He said it would take $ 28 billion to achieve this goal, on top of the $ 10 billion already invested.
“This funding is critical to the mass production, sourcing and delivery of new Covid-19 vaccines and tools around the world,” Guterres said. “G20 countries have the resources.”
President Trump briefly attended the White House Situation Room. However, he was not listed as a participant in a pandemic preparation side event, but instead followed his most recent weekend routine of tweeting allegations of election fraud and going to a round of golf at his Virginia country club.
The virus transformed the annual summit and pared an event that should allow Saudi Arabia to host the world’s great powers in a huge webinar.
The postponement deprived Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a son of the king and de facto ruler of the kingdom, the opportunity to mingle with other global leaders, which could have helped revive his international reputation.
Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed, 35, have been heavily criticized for the Saudi military intervention in Yemen, the arrest of peaceful activists, and the murder and dismemberment of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.
Saudi critics urged G20 members to boycott the summit or use the platform to talk about human rights. Nobody did it. Diplomats said the meeting was too important to miss, but they often privately voiced concerns about rights towards Saudi leaders.