Support global Covid vaccination efforts or lose billions, UK told

Report says if poorer countries aren't given adequate vaccine assistance, Britain's economy and reputation will suffer

A young boy receives a flue vaccine while a Gauteng Health Department Official adjusts her masks before collecting samples during a door-to-door COVID-19 coronavirus testing drive in Yeoville, Johannesburg, on April 3, 2020. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

The UK will protect its own economy by contributing to the costs of global vaccine distribution, a report commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has found.

The Global Britain and the Last Mile of Economic Recovery study concluded that by supporting and expanding the effects of the global vaccination programme, the UK will boost its public health stature and reaffirm its commitment to a multilateral solution for the Covid crisis.

The findings of the report come days after UK Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced that Britain would pare back its foreign aid spending to try to reduce Britain's Covid-fuelled deficit.

Mr Sunak was looking for short-term gains whereas the study extols the long-term gains of a more outward-looking approach.

Britain has already announced a commitment of $1.04 billion to the global Act-A programme, a commitment the report says will pay dividends.

It said that given the UK’s close ties to several fast-growing low and lower-middle-income countries, the contribution will pay for itself.

The report said this was because of the divergence in outcomes between global equitable vaccine distribution and a situation where only some countries could treat Covid-19 effectively.

It highlights the divergence in this chart:

And in this chart it shows how the fortunes of the UK's economy are inextricably linked with the economies of low and lower-middle-income countries:

What the UK stands to lose if those countries are not supported

Visitors from those countries spend about £2.4bn ($3.21bn) in the UK each year, led by tourists from India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

The report suggests the UK stands to lose as much as a third of these tourism receipts (£820 million) in 2020-21 should equitable vaccine efforts fail.

And it says that this figure could rise to £1.95bn over the next five years.

The UK's education sector also stands to lose significantly, up to £240m between 2020-25, the report said.

And with emerging markets an increasing source of growth for Britain's manufacturing sector, UK producers could find themselves losing £1.51bn during the same period.

The UK's trailblazing financial sector is not inured from harm either.

Britain exports nearly £60bn in financial services a year with £400m in receipts coming from countries outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The report estimates that £65m could be at risk for the sector.

Chance to prove multilateral intent

Aside from monetary gains, the report says that with Brexit looming, the UK can reassert its multilateral credentials by playing a prominent role in global aid efforts.

Such a role "would reaffirm the UK’s alignment with the UN Development Goals and build goodwill with high-potential emerging markets.

"Supporting these countries economically can further pave improved opportunities for British companies to pursue growth in markets beyond Europe and North America."

The report's conclusion opposes the idea that nationalism best serves the economic interests of states.

"The world cannot return to normal until the pandemic is contained everywhere," it said.

"The UK’s economic links to [lower-income nations] ensure this contribution will pay for itself.

"The benefits to domestic pandemic management and the projection of Global Britain at this crucial juncture add further weight to the case."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson jubilantly heralded the approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday but warned that the UK "can't think it's game over".

Whether Mr Johnson was thinking of the rest of the world remains to be seen.