G7 leaders pledge to plan for next global health crisis
As G7 leaders met on Saturday to discuss a range of measures to better prepare for the next pandemic, they didn’t need to look very far to see that the current epidemic was still raging.
Britain faces an increase in the number of cases of the Delta variant, first detected in India, which forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider plans to ease all remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21 . Instead, Mr Johnson is expected to announce on Monday that the current measures will remain in place for another month.
The number of COVID-19 infections has skyrocketed in recent days, mainly because of the Delta variant, which health officials say now dominates virtually every corner of the country. A report released last week by Public Health England said the number of cases linked to the variant had risen from 12,431 to 42,323 in just seven days.
Scientists have estimated that the variant is about 60% more transmissible than the Alpha mutation, which originated in Britain, and they say it’s slightly better at evading vaccines. They also add that it is only a matter of time before Delta expands to many other countries.
“I think other countries will probably end up taking a similar path [as the U.K.], because we’ve seen the same thing happen with the Alpha variant, âsaid Jeff Barrett, director of the COVID-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. âHe will be moving from country to country over a slightly difficult time to predict. But I suspect this will spread globally over time.
The rise of the Delta variant has put more pressure on G7 leaders to close the global COVID-19 vaccination gap. Public health officials in Britain said two shots of the vaccine were still very effective against the Delta variant, especially in preventing serious illness. However, only a fraction of people in developing countries have had even one chance, leaving plenty of scope for the variant to spread, especially as countries begin to ease lockdown measures.
“We gave the virus the opportunity and the virus has more capacity [because of the variant]Said Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization‘s health emergency program. “And if you combine opportunity and capacity, you get the situation that we’ve seen in India, and that we’re seeing in a number of other countries right now.”
At their meeting in Carbis Bay, England, G7 leaders – from Canada, Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – agreed on a plan to reduce the time needed to develop vaccines; and strengthen global surveillance networks to track viruses. The G7 has also pledged to donate more than a billion doses of vaccine to low-income countries over the next year.
On Saturday, leaders heard a presentation from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, who applauded their donations but urged them to do much more.
“We welcome the generous announcement made by the G7 countries regarding vaccine donations, but we need more [doses] and we need it faster, âDr Tedros told reporters after his presentation. He added that the WHO needed 100 million doses in June, an additional 100 million in July and 500 million by the end of the year to meet its goal of vaccinating 10% of the world’s population this year. And, he said, there was no reason why, with the help of the G7, the immunization program couldn’t go faster and ensure that 70 percent of the population was immune by now. a year.
Dr Tedros also called on G7 leaders to join a global initiative to relax patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines in order to increase production. Relinquishing intellectual property rights, or intellectual property, was a critical step to help end the pandemic as quickly as possible, he said. “It is going to be very tragic not to really take action and delay the pandemic because we are not doing what is in our hands,” he said.
US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron supported lifting intellectual property protection, but other G7 leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were less certain. Britain and the European Union, home to some of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers, have argued that relaxing intellectual property rules alone will not increase production. Instead, they say the solution lies in lowering export barriers, sharing technology, and encouraging drug companies to build factories in more countries.
The G7 cannot act alone, and any attempt to forgo patent protection would need the support of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to have an impact. WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told reporters on Saturday that the organization’s 164 members had started discussing the issue and that she hoped an agreement could be reached by the end of the year.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala noted that 80 percent of vaccine exports come from just 10 countries in North America, Europe and South Asia. She added that while it was up to WTO members to solve the intellectual property problem, the G7 and other countries must do more to tackle vaccine inequalities.
âThe inequality of access to vaccines is unacceptable,â she said. âI don’t think in a world where we know we have the technology to save lives and we know people are dyingâ¦ it’s a world everyone wants to see go on. We must do all we can, including [dose] donations and including increased manufacturing.
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