US steers clear as global Covid-19 pledging conference begins

Governments aim to raise at least €8bn for vaccine and treatments research into virus

World leaders launched a pledging "marathon" on Monday – without the United States – to raise at least $8 billion (€7.3 billion) for research into a possible vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus.

Organisers included the European Union, non-EU states Britain and Norway, as well as Japan, Canada and Saudi Arabia, although, China, where the virus originated in December, was only represented by its ambassador to the European Union.

Governments aim to raise funds over several weeks or months, building on efforts by the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and wealthy individuals and turn the page on the fractious and haphazard initial response worldwide.

"I believe the fourth of May will mark a turning point in our fight against coronavirus because today the world is coming together," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at the start of the event. She pledged €1 billion on behalf of the EU.


British prime minister Boris Johnson, who has recovered from a life-threatening struggle with Covid-19, said the search for a vaccine was "the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetime", calling for "an impregnable shield around all our people".

A conference list of speakers did not include any officials from the United States. EU diplomats said the US, which has the world's most confirmed cases of the Covid-19 disease, was not taking part, although it is a major donor to the United Nations and UN bodies.

A senior US administration official declined to say specifically why the US was not participating.

“We support this pledging effort by the EU. It is one of many pledging efforts that are going on and the United States is at the forefront,” the official told reporters by telephone.

US president Donald Trump said on April 15th that he would halt funding to the World Health Organisation, whose director general addressed the conference over its handling of the pandemic.

That was something Norwegian prime ministerErna Solberg said she regretted, as well as Washington's absence on Monday. "It is a pity the US is not a part of it. When you are in a crisis, you manage it and you do it jointly with others," said Ms Solberg.

The size of donations may not be known immediately. And it is unclear how much of the pledges will represent new funding as commitments made earlier this year will also be included.

Saudi Arabia, which is chairing the Group of 20 industrialised countries, has promised $500 million.

Many leaders, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, stressed that any vaccine must be available to everyone. Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau said it could not just be available for rich countries, while French president Emmanuel Macron said any vaccine "won't belong to anybody".

“Those who invent it of course will be fairly paid, but access will be given to people across the globe by the organisation we chose,” said Mr Macron.

Affordable prices

EU officials said pharmaceutical companies in receipt of funding will not be requested to forgo their intellectual property rights on the new vaccine and treatments, but they should commit to make them available worldwide at affordable prices.

The $8 billion target is an initial figure. Ms von der Leyen has said more money will be needed over time.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, a UN-backed body focusing on health crises, estimates that the world needs at least $3 billion at once to develop, manufacture and distribute a possible vaccine against Covid-19, said the European Commission.

Another $2.25 billion is needed to develop antiviral treatments for Covid-19, $750 million for testing kits and another $750 million to stockpile essential protective equipment, such as face masks.

The remaining $1.25 billion included in the initial funding goal will go to the World Health Organisation to support the most vulnerable countries.

Britain will hold another online donor summit on June 4th for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations. – Reuters