UK vows to share vaccines, but details thin as G-7 meets

Leaders of the Group of Seven economic powers are holding their first meeting of 2021, and getting coronavirus vaccines to people around the world is top of the agenda

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, which holds the G-7 presidency this year, is meeting virtually with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States to discuss international challenges — chief among them the pandemic that has killed almost 2.5 million people around the world.

Johnson, whose country has had almost 120,000 coronavirus deaths, will promise to give “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people, and will encourage other G-7 countries to do the same, the British government said.

But Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said it was is “difficult to say with any kind of certainty” when or how much Britain could donate.

“We’re not really able to give with certainty either a timescale or the numbers involved,” he told the BBC.

French President Emmanuel Macron gave a firmer target, saying Europe and the U.S. should allocate up to 5% of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the poorest countries “very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening.”

In an interview with the Financial Times, Macron noted that Russia and China have been quick to offer doses of their own products to some African nations.

Macron said that “hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries” while the vaccination effort in poor countries has barely started.

“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it’s paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines,” he said. “You can see the Chinese strategy, and the Russian strategy too.”

Development and aid groups said rich Western countries needed to do more, and soon.

“The virus won’t wait on us to be ready before it mutates, so we need to get these vaccines around the world as quickly as possible,” said Romilly Greenhill, U.K. director of anti-poverty group the One Campaign.

America’s G-7 allies are keen to impress President Joe Biden at his first major multilateral engagement since taking office. They are hopeful that U.S. re-engagement with the world following the “America first” years under Donald Trump will mean a more coordinated response on issues including COVID-19 and climate change.

Friday’s G-7 meeting — and a speech by Biden at the Munich Security Conference the same day — comes the day the United States officially rejoins the Paris climate agreement, the largest international effort to curb global warming. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the landmark accord in 2017.

Biden has pledged to join the COVAX initiative, which Trump refused to support, and to distribute $4 billion in U.S. funding to the program. The White House says he will emphasize the need for global coordination on vaccine production, distribution and supplies when he speaks at Friday’s G-7 meeting.

For Johnson, the G-7 presidency is a chance to demonstrate Britain is still a key global player following its exit from the EU, which became complete at the end of 2020.

A full G-7 summit is scheduled to take place in June at the Carbis Bay seaside resort in southwest England. British officials are hopeful it can take place in person, though at a reduced scale because social distancing rules and other restrictions are likely still to be in place.

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Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this story.

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