G20 leaders vowed Thursday to fight the coronavirus crisis with their collective wealth and political might, declaring they are injecting a staggering $5 trillion into the global economy. And that’s just a start.
Following an extraordinary virtual “summit” organized by Saudi Arabia, which currently chairs the club of the world’s top economies, the leaders issued a joint statement urging a coordinated international response — including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank — both to contain the pandemic and to address the accompanying economic shock. And in all respects, they pledged a “whatever it takes” approach.
“The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities,” the leaders wrote in a joint statement. “The virus respects no borders. Combatting this pandemic calls for a transparent, robust, coordinated, large-scale and science-based global response in the spirit of solidarity. We are strongly committed to presenting a united front against this common threat.”
The leaders expressed sadness over the loss of life, and gratitude to frontline health workers. But they also promised concrete measures to meet the practical needs of health systems, and they agreed on carefully-worded language on honesty and transparency in communicating to the public.
“We will expand manufacturing capacity to meet the increasing needs for medical supplies and ensure these are made widely available, at an affordable price, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed and as quickly as possible,” the leaders wrote. “We stress the importance of responsible communication to the public during this global health crisis.”
The global response to the pandemic has been characterized by a mix of both solidarity and political missteps.
They said that health ministers would be tasked with sharing national best practices and developing “a set of G20 urgent actions on jointly combatting the pandemic” with a ministerial meeting on April 19-20 set as their deadline.
But it’s far from clear that leaders will be able to live up to their lofty aspirations. The global response to the pandemic so far has been characterized at times by a mix of both solidarity — with some nations ready to share medical equipment and expertise — and political missteps and backbiting, including initial secrecy by China at the start of the outbreak, and more recent efforts by the U.S. to label the coronavirus as a Chinese pestilence and to blame Beijing for its spread.
Spain, which was one of the countries pushing for the G20 to take an active role in coordinating the global response, said that the practical steps were the most important.
“For Spain the priorities are to speed up scientific and industrial work to be able to have vaccines at reasonable prices so we prevent vaccination from becoming an unaffordable financial burden for health systems,” a government spokesperson said, adding that Madrid wanted “coordinated and strong action at the global level” to reassure citizens and markets.
However the next weeks play out, the ability to agree a joint statement among leaders marked an initial triumph for Saudi Arabia, which is eager to use its role as chair to restore its diplomatic reputation on the world stage.
“We commit to take all necessary health measures and seek to ensure adequate financing to contain the pandemic and protect people, especially the most vulnerable,” the leaders said in their statement.
The statement outlined six top goals: to protect lives; to safeguard people’s jobs and incomes; to restore confidence, preserve financial stability, revive growth and recover stronger; to minimize disruptions to trade and global supply chains; to provide help to all countries in need of assistance; and to coordinate on public health and financial measures.
The leaders similarly promised to do whatever necessary to blunt the economic shocks of the pandemic and perhaps the most striking detail in their statement was the tally of the collective response so far: $5 trillion.
“We commit to do whatever it takes and to use all available policy tools to minimize the economic and social damage from the pandemic, restore global growth, maintain market stability, and strengthen resilience,” they wrote, adding: “We are injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic. We will continue to conduct bold and large-scale fiscal support.”
Even as more than a billion people around the planet remain in some form of lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the virus — with no end in sight to the extraordinary measures — the leaders ended their statement on a note of optimism: “We are confident that, working closely together, we will overcome this.”
Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting.