The Guardian view on the G7 and the pandemic: pay up, to protect us all | Editorial
“Don’t treat this as our problem alone … Sooner or later, if it doesn’t touch the world’s conscience, it will touch the world’s security,” warned the formidable Indian reporter Barkha Dutt last week, speaking hours after losing her father to Covid. Though Narendra Modi’s government must bear responsibility for the tragedy we are witnessing, other leaders cannot look away.
While many in the west are celebrating the rapid rollout of vaccines, the pandemic is gathering pace elsewhere. South and central America are experiencing another surge. Recent days have set new, grim records, with almost a million new cases reported globally on a single day.
This is why the G7 must step up and show leadership, as an urgent new campaign spearheaded by Gordon Brown demands. It calls for a $60bn two-year vaccine and healthcare support package for poor countries. If the G7 committed to providing its share of the funding – roughly 60% – at the UK-hosted summit in Cornwall this June, the rest would likely follow from Russia, China, the oil states and Nordic countries. The cost of prevention and rapid response are tiny when set beside the consequences of failing to provide these – or indeed, the vast sums already spent in response to the pandemic.
Committing to this package is not only the right thing to do in ethical terms, but the sensible, self-protective one. The Covax international pooled purchase scheme has now shipped 49m doses, but there is a long way to go. In the UK and US, more than one in two adults have received at least one dose. In India the figure is just over one in 10, and across Africa closer to one in 100. Frontline healthcare workers are unprotected. Variants, including those more resistant to existing vaccines, are more likely to emerge where there are high levels of infection. Few countries want long term stringent travel restrictions, especially given the economic repercussions, and not all could enforce them.
Prompt dose sharing and a temporary waiver on patents so that vaccines become cheaper could play a critical role. But cash is crucial. South Africa and Norway have calculated who should pay what under a proper burden-sharing arrangement. As Mr Brown puts it: “A whip-round isn’t good enough when you’re dealing with life and death.”
When the UK hosted the G7 in 2005, the group committed to debt relief and doubled aid to Africa. But this government’s aid cuts have slashed funding for coronavirus research and lifesaving water and sanitation projects in the midst of the pandemic. Nonetheless, it could do the right thing in the coming weeks. The UK contribution under the burden-sharing arrangement would be less than the money it has saved by cutting aid. It needs something to announce as summit host, in what was supposed to be a year of British leadership. And other nations are currently increasing their aid spending. Even so, public pressure will be critical to winning the result needed. The campaign, whose leaders include Graça Machel, the advocate for women’s and children’s rights, is backed by an umbrella group of agencies and organisations similar to the influential Drop the Debt coalition.
If, in response to a global pandemic, the richest countries in the world can’t commit to spending relatively small sums to save lives and protect the global economy, why bother to meet at all? It is not just that the G7 should act – but that it must.
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