A global summit to chart an end to the Covid-19 crisis and plan for future upheavals will occur on 12 May, the White House said, even as President Joe Biden struggles to get vital pandemic funding from Congress.
The virtual gathering will be co-chaired by the United States, along with current G7 president Germany, G20 president Indonesia, African Union chair Senegal, and Belize, the current chair of the CARICOM Caribbean grouping.
“The summit will redouble our collective efforts to end the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic and prepare for future health threats,” the countries said in a joint statement.
This will be the second global huddle on the pandemic, which has killed more than six million people and triggered profound disruption to leading economies and trading patterns in the two years since it began to spread.
Mr Biden hosted a similar summit last September, at which he urged partners to surge vaccines and ensure that 70% of every country has been vaccinated by September this year.
Although death rates are plummeting world wide, the virus continues to spread, preventing many leading countries from fully lifting restrictions, while Shanghai in China is in the midst of a draconian lockdown.
Summit hosts appealed for maintaining the sense of urgency.
“In advance of the May 12 summit, we are calling on world leaders, members of civil society, non-governmental organisations, philanthropists, and the private sector to make new commitments and bring solutions to vaccinate the world, save lives now, and build better health security – for everyone, everywhere,” the joint statement said.
“The emergence and spread of new variants, like Omicron, have reinforced the need for a strategy aimed at controlling Covid-19 worldwide,” it said.
And while the latest variants are less lethal, the summit statement stressed there must be a focus on stopping similar future catastrophes from taking the world by surprise.
“We know we must prepare now to build, sustain, and finance the global capacity we need, not only for emerging Covid-19 variants, but also future health crises,” the statement said.
Mr Biden took office in 2021 promising to overcome the pandemic at home but also putting a heavy accent on efforts to vaccinate poor areas of the world.
The United States has pledged to deliver at least 1.1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses for global use before 2023 and has so far shipped around half of that.
However, Mr Biden’s ambition to make the United States an “arsenal for vaccines” similar to US leadership in World War II now faces political headwinds.
A package ensuring $10 billion in continued funding for the domestic Covid response has yet to be passed by Congress, while there is no agreement at all on more funding for vaccine donations abroad.
“It’s vital Congress acts now so the US can continue our momentum in the international effort to get shots in arms in every part of the world, no matter how remote, and to prevent the spread of the next Covid variant with our international allies and partners,” a senior administration official told AFP.
Also muddying the waters is the war in Ukraine, which is sapping diplomatic attention in the world’s most powerful countries. A source familiar with the issue told AFP that nevertheless the pandemic response remains seen as fundamentally important.