Countering coronavirus: G20 to hold extraordinary virtual summit tomorrow

Around 40 participants (nations/organisations) will participate in the meeting

g20-summit Representational image

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. For the first time ever, several countries, international organisations and regional groupings will get together on Thursday for an unprecedented G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders' Summit on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The presidency of the G20 is with Saudi Arabia right now, so King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will chair the meeting “to advance a coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications,'' said a statement from Riyadh. The exact timing of this meeting, however, has not been communicated as yet. The G20 is the most important international grouping at present.

The G20 members will be joined by leaders from invited countries—Spain, Jordan, Singapore and Switzerland—as well as the United Nations, World Bank Group, World Health Organisation, World Trade Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Financial Stability Board, International Labour Organisation, International Monetary Fund and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Apart from these international organisations, several regional groupings will also be represented. Vietnam will represent the Association of South East Asian Nations, South Africa will represent the African Union, the United Arab Emirates, which is the chair of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Rwanda, which is the chair of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, will be joining the virtual conference.

This means there will be 40 representatives of countries, international organisations and regional groupings who will take part in the conference.

As the COVID-19 outbreak rages across the globe, having infected every continent except Antarctica, there are a number of concerns popping up. One is the spread of the disease itself. Twenty per cent of the world is in complete lockdown; India itself is in the largest lockdown in human history, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi having ordered a 21-day lockdown starting midnight of Wednesday.

Much of the world has sealed its borders. Yet, the contagion is marching relentlessly, and projections of flattening the curve are pessimistic. While containment itself is a gargantuan effort, handing the infection is straining resources across the world. The most developed areas of the globe—Europe and the US—are baffled. In the poorer parts of the world, where existing health infrastructure is not that robust, spreads like that seen in Italy or New York could wipe out entire populations. There is the economic impact, too, which will be felt longer after the present contagion is over.

Thus, the need for an international strategy. Already Iran has been appealing that the sanctions imposed by the US on it be lifted. Iran is the worst-affected country in Asia after China. And given its weak infrastructure, it is overwhelmed.

Modi had held a virtual summit of with leaders and representatives of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on March 15 and proposed a COVID-19 fund, into which India gave an initial sum of $10 million. Subsequently, other countries also put in token amounts into the corpus. There has been a follow-up at the health administration level, to share best practices and experiences. India has helped Nepal and Maldives with rapid response teams.

On March 20, the Chinese Foreign Ministry held a four-hour-long online video conference to brief 19 Eurasian and South Asian countries on China's experience in handling the contagion, which started in Hubei province in mid-December 2019.

These virtual conferences apart, countries are in touch with each other on a one-on-one basis, too. On Tuesday, Modi had a telephonic conversation with Ursula Von Der Leyen, president of the European Commission, where they discussed possible cooperation on dealing with the pandemic within the G20 framework. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday had separate telephonic meetings with European Union representative Josep Borrell and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss respective challenges.

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