ROM – From the opening hours of the Group of 20 summit on Saturday, the leaders of the world’s largest economies wanted to send a strong message to end the coronavirus pandemic: During an unconventional group photo, they were joined on the podium by doctors in white coats and first aiders from the Italian Red Cross.
In his remarks at the opening of the meeting – the first meeting in person for the group since the pandemic – Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy pointed to the sharp difference in access to vaccines between richer and poorer countries.
“Walking alone is simply not an option,” Mr. Draghi, whose country is hosting the summit. Now, he added, the world could “finally look to the future with great – or with some – optimism.”
But as leaders gathered to discuss plans to protect against future pandemics, health experts and activists expressed concern that the world’s richest nations were still not doing enough to help people in poor nations survive the current one.
Advisers said President Biden, who has promised to make the United States an “arsenal of vaccines”, would not announce concrete plans to close the gap between rich and poor nations in terms of vaccination rates. A senior administration official said Mr Biden had met with a group of leaders early in the day and pushed them to support debt relief and allow more emergency funding to reach poor countries whose economies have been hit by the pandemic.
While wealthy nations offer people the third dose of vaccine and increasingly inoculate children, poor countries have administered an estimated four doses per day. 100 people, according to the World Health Organization.
Mr. Biden said in June that the United States would buy 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine doses for poorer nations. He followed up in September by announcing an additional 500 million Pfizer doses along with the promise of an additional $ 750 million for vaccine distribution, about half of that through a nonprofit involved in global vaccinations.
Only about 300 million of these doses are expected to be shipped this year, a number that experts say does not match the amount needed for meaningful protection against the virus.
But the president’s advisers said he came to the summit focusing on a number of issues, including fixing global supply chains, calling for investment to curb climate change and meeting with the leaders of France, Britain and Germany to discuss ways to return to a 2015 nuclear power. agreement with Iran, which the Trump administration rejected.
Prior to that meeting, Mr Biden suggested to reporters that negotiations to restart the agreement were “planned to be resumed.” But in a hastily issued joint statement, the group seemed to put the brakes on the president’s claim.
The statement said the leaders “welcome President Biden’s clearly demonstrated commitment to bring the United States back to full compliance” with the agreement and “remain in full compliance as long as Iran does.”
On Saturday, Mr Biden and other world leaders approved a landmark global deal that seeks to block large companies from moving profits and jobs across borders to avoid taxes – a victory for the president whose administration pushed hard to push the deal over. the finish line.
The leaders were to formally support the deal in a communiqué to be released on Sunday, an administration official said.
But health experts and influential advocates, including Pope Francis, have urged Mr Biden during his trip to stay focused on closing the vaccine gap for poor nations, which are particularly vulnerable to the virus and its variants.
Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One en route to Rome that “the main effort in the effort against Covid-19 is not actually traveling through the G20.” He said a virtual summit convened by Mr Biden in September had set “more ambitious targets” for countries committing to share doses of the vaccine.
Although Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is scheduled to host a meeting between dozens of countries and non-governmental organizations this year to secure vaccine-sharing commitments, Mr. Sullivan that the focus of the group of 20 was on the future.
“You really have a failure for the leadership of developed countries after Covid,” said Célia Belin, a visiting foreign policy fellow at the Center for the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. “This will have consequences.”
Offering vaccine doses to developing countries is actually more than an altruistic gesture on the part of wealthy nations. The more the virus continues to circulate globally, the more likely it is to continue to produce lethal variants, making it harder to end the pandemic and making vulnerable rich and poor.
Since arriving in Rome, Mr Biden has already heard a personal appeal to do more: During a meeting in the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis pressed the president on the issue, a senior official said afterwards.
And in an open letter to the group of 20, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the leaders of the world’s largest economies “to help stem the tide of the pandemic by expanding access to vaccines and other tools for the people and places where there are fewest of them.”
When the summit began, it also drew a mix of protesters Dismissed factory workers, climate activists, anti-globalization activists, trade unions, feminist groups, communists and some vaccine skeptics.
“There will be many of us,” said Gino Orsini, a representative of Si Coba’s union, one of the organizers of a demonstration scheduled for Saturday to coincide with the rally. The group protests what it says is the exploitation of workers by the international elite.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the group of the 8-summit, which Italy hosted in the northern city of Genoa, which was marked by riots. It is also a moment of tension between the authorities and opponents of the Italian government’s demand for coronavirus vaccination, which has resulted in violent clashes.
“The level of attention is maximum,” said Giovanni Borrelli, a local official, adding that 5,500 additional law enforcement officers were deployed this weekend.
Emma Bubola contributed with reporting.