The call has been made on the eve of the upcoming G7 Leaders’ Summit 2021, which aims to discuss post-pandemic recovery plans.
The G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting recently opened in London, marking their first face-to-face meeting in two years. The event also featured the participation of guests representing India, the Republic of Korea, South Africa and Brunei, the incumbent chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The meeting allowed diplomats the chance to discuss cooperation in containing COVID-19 and promoting post-pandemic economic recovery, which is also the major topic of the G7 Leaders’ Meeting, to be presided over by the United Kingdom from June 11 to 13.
The discussion of the G7 ministers took place in the context that the pandemic is still evolving complicatedly with a rapidly growing number of cases in many places, while the vaccination coverage rate varies among countries and regions. According to WHO data, the number of COVID-19 cases globally in the past fortnight has been higher than the figure recorded in the first six months since the outbreak of the pandemic. The new and more complicated wave of the disease currently raging in India and some other countries has driven growing concerns. Many G7 countries are not beyond the spiral of struggling with the new “fever” of the pandemic.
During a press conference on the same day of the opening of the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the crisis caused by COVID-19 could not be soon terminated without more drastic actions from G7 nations. According to the WHO, members of the “rich countries club” are capable of funding the production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as testing and treatment. These are essential and effective tools in the fight against the pandemic. The G7 countries lead the world both politically and economically, with many members involved in producing most types of vaccines. Therefore, the G7’s leading role and efforts to fulfil its responsibility to the international community are of great importance in the current COVID-19 battle.
At the press conference, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown emphasised that the world currently sees deep division between the rich and the poor, as well as between the developed and developing countries, in accessing COVID-19 vaccines. Worryingly, there is a big gap between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated people at high risk of death. According to the UN special envoy, failure or delay in G7’s action will lead to a more serious global divide, and the international community will possibly fall into the situation of selecting “who lives and who dies” if the immunisation campaign is not promptly expanded to all countries.
International social media statistics showed that only 2.9% of the 1.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered globally are in low-income countries. Meanwhile, the WHO-operated COVAX mechanism cannot purchase enough vaccines to supply poor countries, partly because rich nations have pre-ordered the vaccines from manufacturers. The WHO stated that COVAX has just handed over more than 49 million doses to countries belonging to the group of 92 poor and developing economies participating in this mechanism. The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator also lacks US$19 billion to fund activities in 2021 and needs an additional US$40 billion for 2022, aiming to vaccinate most of the adults in the world. According to the UN, the G7 countries are fully capable of financing up to 70% of the total costs mentioned above, and the group of rich countries sharing responsibility could create a turning point in the effort to bring vaccines to people around the globe. The WHO also said that G7 can help remove barriers to speed up vaccine production, through halting the application of intellectual property regulations, facilitating the expansion of vaccine production, and increasing the vaccine manufacturing capacity.
The G7 countries have pledged to support the WHO’s core role and have provided US$7.5 billion to aid WHO programmes, while coordinating with the G20 in the effort to reschedule debt for poor nations. The G7 is expected to continue to show responsibility to the international community and take more drastic action to promote equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine globally.