G-20 summit opens as leaders urge united response to virus

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In this handout image provided by DGDA, Diriyah Gate Development Authority of Saudi, a family photo featuring members of the G20 is projected onto the walls of Salwa Palace, At Turaif on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2020 in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Meshari-Alharbi, DGDA via AP)

DUBAI – The Group of 20 summit opened on Saturday with appeals by the world's most powerful leaders to collectively chart a way forward as the coronavirus pandemic overshadows this year's gathering, transforming it from in-person meetings to a virtual gathering of speeches and declarations.

The pandemic, which has claimed more than 1.37 million lives worldwide, has offered the G-20 an opportunity to prove how such bodies can facilitate international 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,” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said in the summit’s opening remarks.

While G-20 countries have contributed billions of dollars toward developing a vaccine for the virus, they have also mostly focused on securing their own vaccine supplies. Countries such as Britain, the U.S., France and Germany — all G-20 member states — have directly negotiated deals with pharmaceutical companies to receive billions of doses, meaning that the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply next year is already reserved.

U.S. President Donald Trump highlighted what the U.S. has done to response to the coronavirus and rebuild the economy and work on vaccines, which are expected to become available soon, according to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Trump, however, appeared not to have acknowledged that Joe Biden won this month's presidential election.

“It’s been a great honor to work with you and I look forward to working with you again for a long time,” Trump said, according to audio obtained by The Guardian. The South China Morning Post reported similar comments.

A day before the summit, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that while $10 billion has been invested in efforts to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, another $28 billion is needed for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of new COVID-19 vaccines around the world.

Guterres called on more G-20 nations to join COVAX, an international initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries worldwide. The United States has declined to join under Trump.