Trudeau urges world leaders to pull together as U.S. steers clear of COVID-19 vaccine pledging conference

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged all world leaders to pull together in the global fight for a vaccine for COVID-19 during an online pledging “marathon” today, as the United States steered clear of the conference.

World leaders are holding the event to raise at least 7.5 billion euros ($11.6 billion Cdn) for research into a possible vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus.

Trudeau, the fifth leader to speak during the online conference, called it “truly a moment for global leadership.”

“We can’t just have the wealthiest countries, the most successful scientific countries, have this success and not share it with the world, because we will not be safer until we’re able to share it with the world,” he said.

Canada is among the organizers, which include the European Union, non-EU European states Britain and Norway, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

They aim to raise funds over several weeks or months, building on efforts by the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and wealthy benefactors supporting the effort.

A list of world leaders due to speak seen by Reuters did not include any U.S. officials, and EU diplomats said the United States was not taking part, although it is a major donor of the United Nations and UN bodies. The U.S. embassy was not immediately available for comment.

Trudeau pledged $850 million to the global fund, which will go toward diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, the European Commission said in a press release last week. That sum is part of previously announced funding.

Trudeau said there will be no return to “full normal” until there is a vaccine.

“When a storm comes, people tend to want to hunker down with their friends, with their families, and wait until it blows over,” he said.

“But we cannot isolate ourselves. We cannot hope that everyone else does well while we take care of ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves and take care of the rest of the world as well.”

The event is being on the European Union’s Coronavirus Global Response website.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on April 15 he would halt funding to the World Health Organization over its handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The WHO’s director general is scheduled to address the conference.

During his daily news conference, Trudeau was asked to comment on countries that are not contributing to the global pledge.

“It is a global pandemic and what happens outside our borders, no matter how well we handle what’s going on inside our borders, will have an impact on us directly, with potential further spread of COVID-19, or indirectly with disrupted supply chains and a weakened global economy upon which we all depend,” he said.

“We know that Canadians have always stepped up and will continue to step up because we recognize that our role within the world does matter, and I would encourage all countries to see that the only way we’re going to get through this is if we get through this together.”

As organizers, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are among those on the speakers’ lineup.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang is also expected to speak and make a pledge, according to the protocol list, although China is not leading the conference.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month called the online pledging conference “a real marathon,” saying a vaccine to the respiratory disease COVID-19 was needed “in every corner of the world … at affordable prices.”

Donation figures may not be known immediately. It is unclear how much of the money to be pledged represents new funding, as financial commitments made earlier this year will also be included.

Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the Group of 20 industrialized countries, has pledged $500 million. Norway, Turkey and Israel are also expected to pledge sums.

Some EU officials have raised concerns about countries counting in money already pledged earlier this year.

Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, warned that although the initial wave of transmissions of the coronavirus had passed its peak in most countries in Europe, “this is not going to end anytime soon.”

She told EU lawmakers on Monday that there were still four countries — Poland, Romania, Sweden and Britain — where there had been “no substantial changes in the last 14 days” in terms of a possible fall in infection rates.

The 7.5 billion euro target is an initial figure. Von der Leyen has said countries will need more money over time.

Britain will hold another online donor summit on June 4.


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