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G20 leaders promise fair access to coronavirus vaccines

Saudi Arabian and foreign media representatives listen to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remotely addressing a press conference at the G20 summit in Riyadh, on November 22, 2020 [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

AlJazeera – Leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies have said they would ensure an affordable and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests around the world so that poorer countries were not left out, according to a final summit communique which, however, gave few specifics.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages – having so far infected 58 million people globally and killing 1.3 million – the club of the world’s richest nations adopted a unified stance on the challenges ahead during the virtual gathering hosted by Saudi Arabia.

In Sunday’s communique, the G20 countries said they supported a global project for vaccines, tests and therapeutics – called Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator – and its COVAX facility to distribute vaccines.

“We have mobilised 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 statement said.

“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people.”

After a weekend of “digital diplomacy”, however, their closing communique lacked details on many of the issues dominating the meeting.

“Some of these commitments were made earlier in the year, they are not new,” said James Bays, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor.

“There were some very specific demands coming from the aid sector, from charities, from international aid groups and the UN itself,” he added.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres had said another $28bn (£21bn) was needed to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, including $4.2bn before the end of this year, but the final communique made no mention of these sums.

While richer nations plan their vaccination programmes – with the United States expecting to launch in mid-December – experts warn that developing countries face hurdles that could deny billions the first proven protection against the virus.

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concern that no major vaccine agreements had been struck yet for poorer countries.

“We will now speak with (global vaccine alliance group) GAVI about when these negotiations will begin because I am somewhat worried that nothing has been done on that yet,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin after the virtual G20 meeting.

The G20 summit’s final communique was approved unanimously by all countries, but Turkey wanted its “voice to be heard”, according to Saudi Arabia’s Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan. A separate statement from Ankara detailing its views towards the communique was expected to be released later.

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