Canada and other G20 countries are pledging US$5-trillion in economic stimulus measures to fight the COVID-19 crisis, along with a focus on supporting vulnerable countries that might lack the health-care systems and resources to keep their populations safe.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who joined a “virtual summit” of G20 leaders via video conferencing Thursday, said the alliance is “particularly well-suited” for a global response to the coronavirus outbreak.
He said the group’s leaders discussed the need to support the global economy, including developing countries, and the importance of investing in organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Bank in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
“We know that support for vulnerable countries who are struggling with the ability to combat this virus is not just about being altruistic, it’s about protecting Canadians as well,” Mr. Trudeau said during his daily news conference outside his residence in Ottawa.
“This virus will possibly face resurgences, even once we’ve handled it in Canada and many countries. Our ability to minimize those resurgences will be linked to our ability to help and work with countries in more dire situations.”
In their statement after the summit, the G20 leaders said they are injecting more than US$5-trillion into the global economy “as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures and to guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.”
Mr. Trudeau said the group also discussed the need to support Africa specifically, although he did not provide any details.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Mr. Trudeau backed a proposal at the G20 for economic stimulus and debt relief to help African countries fight the pandemic. Canada, Germany, France, Russia and others are supporting the African request for help, Mr. Ramaphosa told reporters in Pretoria after the summit.
“We put Africa’s case forward very strongly,” said Mr. Ramaphosa, whose country is the only African full member of the G20. “We will need a lot of support, particularly because our health systems in the continent are challenged. A number of countries in the world are very sympathetic to Africa’s situation.”
He appealed to the G20 on behalf of the continent’s leaders to ensure that the rising wave of lockdowns and travel restrictions do not prevent medical supplies from reaching Africa, where there are shortages of ventilators and other equipment to care for an anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients.
“They should not close Africa off,” Mr. Ramaphosa said.
In their statement, the G20 leaders said they were “gravely concerned” with the serious risks to all countries, “particularly developing and least-developed countries, and notably in Africa and small island states, where health systems and economies may be less able to cope with the challenge, as well as the particular risk faced by refugees and displaced persons.”
The bloc promised to address “debt vulnerabilities” due to the pandemic in low-income countries.
It also promised humanitarian financing and pledged to expand manufacturing capacity “to meet the increasing needs for medical supplies and ensure that these are made widely available, at an affordable price, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed and as quickly as possible.”
Canada has pledged $50-million to help vulnerable countries prepare for and respond to COVID-19 as part of the government’s greater coronavirus response package.
Last week, Ottawa rolled out some of that foreign aid, announcing $8-million for humanitarian organizations to help developing countries affected by the coronavirus improve access to water, sanitation, hygiene and emergency health care, among other support.
Canada is also actively reviewing the United Nations’ appeal for US$2-billion to help poor countries combat COVID-19 and is expected to contribute, a senior government official said Thursday. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for more resources to prevent the pandemic from reaching “apocalyptic proportions.”
Many leaders in the developing world had been hoping the G20 would promise a package of economic and humanitarian support for low-income countries where the pandemic has triggered a wave of lockdowns and business shutdowns.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have already called on the G20 to support a debt-relief plan that asks bilateral creditors to suspend debt repayments from low-income countries. This would help with “immediate liquidity needs to tackle challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak,” they said in a statement this week.
The UN’s US$2-billion appeal, meanwhile, is to help the world’s poorest and most war-torn countries, which are highly vulnerable to the pandemic. It aims to provide medical equipment and laboratory testing supplies, along with water and sanitation efforts in refugee camps.
The funding could “save many lives,” Mr. Guterres said in making the appeal.
The plan also involves opening new “humanitarian corridors” to allow supplies to be airlifted into countries that have shut down international flights.
Many health leaders in Africa and the Middle East have warned that the travel bans and lockdowns are having a damaging effect on humanitarian aid, especially for refugees and others who need emergency care.
The travel restrictions “are inadvertently preventing life-saving aid from reaching displaced and refugee communities,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said this week. “Humanitarian organizations have already suspended relief programs in some countries due to government restrictions, causing uncertainty and hardship for families.”
The refugee council, a leading humanitarian agency, said it is currently unable to reach thousands of people – as many as 300,000 in the Middle East alone – because of the restrictions.
“If supermarkets and pharmacies can remain operational during this crisis, then so should the delivery of humanitarian aid,” said a statement by Jan Egeland, the council’s secretary-general.
In his speech at the G20 summit Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised that his country would “increase its supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients, daily necessities and anti-epidemic and other supplies to the international market.”
Global industrial supply chains must be kept “stable,” he said.