Saudi Arabia leads G20 efforts to unite the world in coronavirus response

Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the 40th GCC Summit in Riyadh. (SPA)

Leaders of the world's most powerful economies will convene virtually on Thursday to coordinate a response to the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has killed 21,000, infected half a million and forced well over a quarter of the world's population into home isolation.

The meeting for the Group of 20 nations will be chaired by Saudi Arabia's King Salman. The Kingdom, which is presiding over the G20 this year, said it organized the extraordinary meeting to advance global efforts to tackle the pandemic and its economic implications as people lose their incomes amid closures, curfews and lockdowns.

Read more: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman: G20 summit to unite global coronavirus fight

The meeting comes after the World Health Organization criticized the world's wealthiest countries for failing to take cohesive action to combat the virus or its economic impact on people around the world.

“As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges to healthcare systems and the global economy, we convene this extraordinary G20 summit to unite efforts towards a global response,” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said on Twitter.

Read more: UAE to take part in G20 summit ‘in the spirit of solidarity:’ Crown Prince

The leaders are expected to agree that the outbreak is a threat to humanity and will set up a mechanism to share information and experiences in fighting the disease, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a draft statement to be discussed at the summit.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states have been relatively successful in containing the virus, but infections have spiraled out of control in Iran, much of Europe and the United States. On top of the economic hit from lockdowns to slow the spread of coronavirus, Saudi Arabia has been hurt by a dramatic fall in oil prices.

The global death toll from the new coronavirus, which causes an illness called COVID-19, has climbed past 21,000 and the number of infections has surpassed 472,000, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the US rose to 1,041 as of late Wednesday, with nearly 70,000 infections. Spain’s death toll has risen past 3,400, eclipsing that of China, where the virus was first detected in December.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Read more: Coronavirus symptoms: Loss of smell, taste, might signal infection

The pandemic has not been helped by a disinformation campaign initiated by China, which falsely accused the US military of bringing the infection to China. US President Donald Trump has responded by referring to the “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” and the ensuing argument prevented the Group of Seven foreign ministers from issuing a group statement on Wednesday.

Read more: China, US to table war of words during G20 coronavirus meet: Reports

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the heads of state who will take part in Thursday's G20 leaders' summit. The virtual summit will also include leaders from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Labor Organization and others.

An image of the G20 leaders at Osaka, Japan, last year. (AFP)

An image of the G20 leaders at Osaka, Japan, last year. (AFP)

Officials from Spain, Jordan, Singapore and Switzerland will also take part in the call, as well as chairs of regional bodies like the African Union, the Association of South-East Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The International Labor Organization says nearly 40 percent of the world’s population has no health insurance or access to national health services and that 55 percent — or 4 billion people — do not benefit from any form of social protection whatsoever. It said the current health crisis makes clear that not nearly enough progress has been made by governments in the years since the 2008 financial crisis to expand access to health services, sickness benefits, and unemployment protection.

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank issued a call on G20 countries ahead of the Thursday's meeting, warning of severe economic and social consequences for developing countries, home to a quarter of the world's population and where most of the world's poorest people reside.

The lenders called for a suspension of debt payments from these countries and asked G20 leaders to task the World Bank and IMF with making the needed assessments on which countries have unsustainable debt situations and immediate financing requirements.

“It is imperative at this moment to provide a global sense of relief for developing countries as well as a strong signal to financial markets,” the lenders said in a joint statement.

Read more: Economic crisis versus coronavirus: What is more deadly?

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has said the lender stands "ready to deploy all our $1 trillion lending capacity." She said earlier this week the IMF expects a recession at least as bad as during the 2008 global financial crisis or worse. Nearly 80 countries are requesting IMF help.

Ethiopia's government told G20 finance ministers and Central Bank chiefs in a call ahead of Thursday's summit that Africa needs a $150 billion emergency financing package due to the impact of the virus.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G20 leaders to adopt a “wartime” plan including a stimulus package “in the trillions of dollars” for businesses, workers and households in developing countries trying to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

With agencies.

Read more: Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency years in the making

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Last Update: 10:30 KSA 13:30 - GMT 10:30
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