G20 calls for more donations to fund pandemic response

Group also pledges to protect workers after meeting of labour ministers convened by Saudi Arabia

People walk round Times Square as some screens are illuminated in blue as part of the "Light It Blue" initiative to honor healthcare workers, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, New York, U.S. April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The Group of 20 major economies on Thursday called for more donations to fund the emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic and develop needed vaccines.

The G20 secretariat said $1.9 billion had been donated by countries, philanthropic organisations and the private sector toward an $8bn target set by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, but more funds were needed.

G20 leaders committed to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic at a virtual meeting convened last month by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, which holds the group presidency this year.

"Global challenges demand global solutions and this is our time to stand and support the race for a vaccine and other therapeutic measures to combat Covid-19," Saudi G20 Sherpa Fahad Almubarak said in a statement.

Additional funds are needed to pay for emergency response, diagnostics, treatment, and the development, manufacturing, and deployment of necessary vaccines, the statement said.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, co-convened by the World Bank and the World Health Organisation, last month urged donors to raise $8 billion to augment funds already being committed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

It said it was critical to fully fund the WHO to co-ordinate and prioritise support efforts to the most vulnerable countries, develop new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, strengthen surveillance and ensure sufficient supplies of protective equipment for health workers.

The United States has long been the biggest overall donor to the WHO, contributing over $400 million in 2019, roughly 15 per cent of its budget. But US President Donald Trump this month suspended US contributions, accusing the WHO of being "China-centric".

Separately on Thursday, G20 labour and employment ministers pledged to prop up the labour market as the pandemic hits jobs and output around the world.

"We cannot allow Covid-19 to widen inequalities, including gender inequalities, in the labour market and erode progress made thus far," the ministers said after a virtual meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia.

"Our countries will continue to explore ways to support businesses and employers, especially micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, to be able to maintain employment and support affected workers through this challenging period.

"Measures will be developed in accordance with national circumstances and may include cash transfers, tax credits, grants, loans, and wage subsidies."

The International Labour Organisation on Tuesday warned that the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis are having a "devastating effect" on workers and employers, with "massive losses" of jobs and output across all sectors.

"The world of work is facing the worst global crisis since World War II," said Alette van Leur, the ILO's sectoral policies director.

"The economic impact of the pandemic is likely to be severe and sustained."

But the Geneva-based United Nations agency said that in any lifting of lockdown measures, staff should only return to work if they had proper protection, to prevent recurrences of the pandemic.