“The G7 should ...” It’s a phrase that featured in seemingly every policy paper over the past year and for good reason, as the G7 offers a glimmer of a substance rare in appearance in recent memory: global leadership. With a reinvigorated America and our greatest democracies bounced into solution-mode because of Covid-19, Cornwall’s gathering is a huge opportunity to get things done. From climate change to corporate tax, the agenda is packed with hugely important issues, but there is one that requires prioritisation and focus: beating this pandemic.
In the build-up to the G7 summit, one may have been forgiven for believing that Covid was coming to an end. Much of the talk was on future health security and how we can better prepare for the next pandemic. Of course, this political impetus should be seized to ensure we’re more ready and better coordinated against future threats than we were in early 2020, and this requires a global health infrastructure capable of halting pandemics before they’ve even begun – this will be the new necessary. But an emphasis on the future shouldn’t come at the expense of the here and now.
The Delta variant is 60 per cent more transmissible than its predecessors. It is tearing through countries including the UK, where it now accounts for more than 90 per cent of new cases. Thankfully, it’s hitting a wall of the double vaccinated here, but this won’t be the case elsewhere. It has the potential to destroy health-care systems – with untold knock-on effects around the world.
The G7 must commit to vaccinating the world as quickly as possible. This will require three things.
First is a strategy. Within the next month, the objective should be to protect health-care systems by fully vaccinating the approximately 90 million unvaccinated health-care and frontline workers around the world. In the 200 days following the G7 summit that take us to 31 December, the aim should be to strategically vaccinate the most vulnerable and those in urban conurbations – roughly 1.8 billion people. This is enlightened self-interest. Not only would it prevent deaths, but the vaccine’s impact on transmission would also reduce the risk of new vaccine-resistant variants arising.
Second, a huge boost to vaccine supply is needed. Simply put, we need to vaccinate close to 2 billion people by the end of the year. The US agreement to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to countries worldwide should be applauded, but the small print shows this is not going to stop the onslaught of Delta anytime soon: 200 million doses will arrive this year, 300 million the next. The G7 should commit to sharing doses that exist now. This means fast-tracking approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the US, so it can move the 60 million doses sitting in American warehouses to inoculate a large portion of health-care workers globally.
Third, a plan needs to be in place to ensure countries receiving vaccine donations can actually put them into peoples’ arms. We call this absorption capacity, and it’s as important as having enough doses. Between the UK, the US and European nations, there is an incredible amount of insight into what it takes to ready a country to inoculate its populations. The G7 must coordinate the remarkable human beings behind their respective vaccine efforts – for the UK that includes Sir Simon Stevens and Kate Bingham – into a vaccine absorption and procurement taskforce that can work with countries now to set up cold storage facilities and vaccine centres and train an army of vaccinators. Far from cutting development budgets, countries should reorientate their aid to directly assist this effort.
Vaccines are our shield but also our sword. Combined with rapid tests and a reliable proof of status, they can take on the devastating indirect effect of the virus by providing an alternative to lockdowns, with a Covid Pass helping to reopening domestic and global economies. Quarantining for travellers between G7 countries and other trusted nations should be removed for the fully vaccinated, with proof of vaccine and testing status interoperable between nations. The G7 must coordinate this global Covid Pass.
World leadership has been in short supply in recent years, and while Cornwall appears to mark its re-emergence, the test will be in the commitment leaders make – beyond the fine words and aspirations, in search of a here today, gone tomorrow headline – to turning the promises made at the summit into a reality. This is what the G7 must do. The world and countless lives are depending on it.