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New G7 vaccine pledges ‘insufficient’ for developing world, says Oxfam

Boris Johnson calls for renewed focus on climate change at virtual meeting of world leaders

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 19 February 2021 14:44 GMT
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Boris Johnson addresses G7 leaders at virtual meeting

Development charity Oxfam has accused the world’s richest countries of making the poorer nations wait for “leftover” vaccines, after the G7 group of major powers announced new pledges in the battle against coronavirus.

Following a meeting chaired by Boris Johnson, the G7 members – Britain, the US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan – issued a joint statement agreeing to “intensify cooperation” on the global response to Covid-19. 

With a commitment of up to $4bn (£2.85bn) from US president Joe Biden to the Covax international vaccine fund, and a doubling of EU contributions to €1bn (£870m), they said that collective G7 support for jabs in developing countries had reached $7.5bn (£5.35bn).

The moves came as Boris Johnson promised to donate the majority of the UK’s surplus vaccines to the developing world, telling fellow leaders that there was “no point” inoculating their own populations while leaving coronavirus free to spread and mutate elsewhere.

But Oxfam’s head of inequality policy Max Lawson said the “welcome steps” were “insufficient when compared to the scale of the Covid-19 threat”.

“Making huge parts of Africa and Asia wait for unwanted, leftover vaccines from rich countries’ stocks is not just immoral, it is irresponsible,” said Mr Lawson. “And the lack of coordinated action from the G7 is inexcusable. 

“The longer huge swathes of the world’s population are denied protection, the greater the threat that virus mutations will threaten us all.”

Calling on rich countries to break pharmaceutical companies’ hold over Covid vaccines, Mr Lawson added: “Between them, G7 nations have secured enough vaccines for every one of their citizens to be vaccinated three times over, while many poor countries are yet to receive a single dose.

“Instead of patting themselves on the back for limited progress, the best thing the G7 could do would be to stop supporting their pharmaceutical corporations’ monopolies on Covid-19 vaccines.”

Mr Johnson chaired the summit of the G7 group held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. And, as so often in video conferences, he was forced to ask German leader Angela Merkel to mute after she inadvertently talked over him.

The prime minister urged leaders from the US, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada to “make sure everybody gets the vaccines that they need so that the whole world can come through this pandemic together”.

Aiming a friendly dig at Mr Biden by accusing him of stealing his slogan, Mr Johnson said the world must “build back better” from the coronavirus crisis by prioritising green growth.

He called on his fellow leaders to step up action on climate change at the UN Cop26 summit which the UK will host in Glasgow in November.

And he said: “Jobs and growth is what we are going to need after this pandemic and I think that the build back better operation offers the right way forward.”

On the day when Mr Biden formally restored the US to carbon reduction commitments under the 2015 Paris Accord, the G7 leaders agreed to sign up to the “build back better” goal.

In a joint statement, they said that ahead of Cop26 they would “put our global ambitions on climate change and the reversal of biodiversity loss at the centre of our plans”.

Also – in a unanimous pledge that could never have been reached with Mr Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump – they promised in line with the Paris Agreement to “deliver a green transformation and clean energy transitions that cut emissions and create good jobs on a path to net zero no later than 2050”. 

On coronavirus, they promised to accelerate global vaccine development and deployment, work with industry to increase manufacturing capacity, improve information sharing on new variants, and promote transparency and vaccine confidence.

They recognised extensive immunisation around the world as “a global public good” and called on all nations and financial institutions to join them in increased support for Covax.

In a swipe at Beijing, the G7 leaders said that they would seek a “collective approach to address non-market oriented policies and practices”, engaging with large economies like China.

They welcomed Japan’s commitment to press ahead with the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this summer as “a symbol of global unity in overcoming Covid-19”.

Friday’s summit was Mr Johnson’s first experience of chairing an international summit as prime minister, and he made clear that he hopes to greet his fellow leaders in person later this year for the annual G7 summit in Cornwall in June and Cop26 in Glasgow in November.

Speaking after the UK gave first doses of Covid vaccines to more than 16 million people – a higher proportion of its population than any other G7 country – Mr Johnson said: “Science is finally getting the upper hand on Covid, which is a great, great thing and long overdue.

“But there is no point in us vaccinating our individual populations – we’ve got to make sure the whole world is vaccinated because this is a global pandemic and it’s no use one country being far ahead of another, we’ve got to move together.

“So, one of the things that I know that colleagues will be wanting to do is to ensure that we distribute vaccines at cost around the world – make sure everybody gets the vaccines that they need so that the whole world can come through this pandemic together.”

Amid concerns that unvaccinated areas will create pools for the development of dangerous new variants, French president Emmanuel Macron called on the US and European states to send 5 per cent of doses to poorer states.

An Ipsos Mori poll found Britons were more likely than others to feel that extra doses should be shared, with 69 per cent saying some of those left over once everyone in the UK is vaccinated should be passed on, compared to 61 per cent in Germany, 50 per cent in France and 46 per cent in the US.

Mr Johnson said he wanted to ensure that “building back better” and the “green technology that we are all going to use to tackle climate change” delivers the “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new green-collar jobs that we know it can produce”.

Mr Johnson welcomed G7 unity in opposition to the military coup in Myanmar and condemnation of the detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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