G20 to back 'equitable' access to coronavirus vaccine

Saudi Arabia hosts a G20 summit in a first for an Arab nation with the virtual forum dominated by efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and the worst global recession in decades

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said on Saturday that 2020 was an "extraordinary" year in light of the "unprecedented shock" caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasised that the world was facing a major economic crisis this year that could be comparable with the Great Depression of the Thirties. The pandemic has offered the G-20 an opportunity to prove how such bodies can facilitate global cooperation in crises - but has also underscored their shortcomings.

"We have a duty to rise to the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and reassurance to our people by adopting policies to mitigate this crisis", he told world leaders in opening remarks.

He said Turkey gave aid to 156 countries and nine worldwide agencies in pandemic and urged G20 leaders to ensure everyone has access to the vaccine.

Members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, and the European Union.

The virus shows no signs of abating as major cities in the USA and Europe bring back lockdowns and curfews.

G20 nations have contributed more than $21 billion to combat the pandemic, which has infected 56 million people globally and left 1.3 million dead, and injected $11 trillion to shore up the battered world economy, summit organisers said. The World Health Organization says more cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past four weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic.

China supports the decision on DSSI extension and will continue to work with other parties for its full implementation, he said.

"From the very beginning, we have emphasized that we should take care of people's health and of the economy at the same time".

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But while the US was mainly cooperative, Turkey raised an objection to the climate language, tied to a longstanding complaint of how it can't access climate financing from the $10.3 billion Green Climate Fund. Turkey, because of a quirky diplomatic designation, falls in between the categories of developed and developing countries and as such neither gets, nor gives, funding to help cope with climate change.

President Trump, meanwhile, is among other G-20 leaders expected to participate in the closed-door virtual sessions that are taking place Saturday and Sunday. He also urged G-20 leaders to provide support to developing countries.

"We will now speak with GAVI [Global Vaccine Alliance Group] about when these negotiations will begin because I am somewhat anxious that nothing has been done on that yet", Merkel said in Berlin of agreements for vaccine access in developing countries.

He called on more G-20 nations to join COVAX, an global initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide.

As the trailblazing event got under way, there were some early quirks, with someone heard telling the king that "the whole world is watching" before the event started, Chinese President Xi Jinping apparently having to call for technical help, and French President Emmanuel Macron chatting to an aide off camera. President Donald Trump's administration has been threatening to blacklist the group, sources have told Reuters, as part of its "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran.

G-20 nations have agreed to suspend debt payments for the world's poorest countries until mid-2021 to allow those nations to focus their spending on health care and stimulus programs.

It has extended a debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) for developing countries until June next year, but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pushed for a commitment to extend it until the end of 2021.

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