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World leaders vow to coordinate coronavirus response in video call

Leaders of the G20 major economies held an online summit on March 26, in a bid to fend off a coronavirus-triggered recession, after criticism the group has been slow to address the crisis.
Leaders of the G20 major economies held an online summit on March 26, in a bid to fend off a coronavirus-triggered recession, after criticism the group has been slow to address the crisis.GARY RAMAGE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The head of the United Nations told leaders of the world’s 20 major industrialized nations during an emergency virtual summit Thursday that ‘‘we are at war with a virus – and not winning it” despite dramatic measures by countries to seal their borders, shutter businesses, and enforce home isolation for more than a quarter of the world’s population.

The unusual video call in lieu of a physical gathering comes as governments around the world stress the importance of social distancing to curb the spread of the highly infectious virus, which has prompted closures, curfews, and lockdowns globally.

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The Group of 20 nations, criticized for not taking cohesive action against the virus or its economic impact, vowed to work together and said they are collectively injecting more than $4.8 trillion into the global economy to counteract the social and financial impacts of the pandemic.

In a final statement after the meeting, the G20 said they were committed to strengthening the World Health Organization’s mandate. They said “global action, solidarity, and international cooperation” were needed more than ever, but made no specific commitments.

“The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities,’’ the group said. “The virus respects no borders.’’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged G20 leaders to adopt a war-time plan to tackle the pandemic.

“It took the world three months to reach 100,000 confirmed cases of infection,” he said. “The next 100,000 happened in just 12 days. The third took four days. The fourth, just one and a half.”

“This is exponential growth and only the tip of the iceberg,” Guterres said, adding that countries must be able to combine systematic testing, tracing, quarantining, and treatment, as well as coordinate an exit strategy to keep it suppressed until a vaccine becomes available.

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UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said later that the secretary-general “thought the meeting was an important step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go for truly concerted and effective global leadership in response to this pandemic and its impact.”

The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the G20 leaders: “We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear us apart — if we let it.“

He urged leaders to fight without excuses, without regrets, thanking countries that have already taken steps to fight the pandemic and urging them to do more. He also encouraged leaders to unite, saying no country can fight COVID-19 alone.

Saudi Arabia, which is presiding over the G20 this year, opened the meeting with an urgent appeal by King Salman for the world’s most powerful nations to finance the research and development of a vaccine for the virus.

“This human crisis requires a global response. The world counts on us to come together and cooperate in order to face this challenge,’’ the Saudi monarch said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced during the call that the UK was providing additional funding to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is supporting the development of vaccines, bringing its contribution to 250 million pounds ($302 million).

The meeting was not open to the media, and governments and organizations distributed the comments of participants after it concluded.

In the video call, world leaders such as India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, whose wife has contracted the virus, could be seen in little boxes on a screen seated at desks in photos shared on Twitter by European Council President Charles Michel.

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President Trump was shown seated at the end of a long conference table in Washington with other American officials in photos shared on social media by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.