G20’s vaccine promise as US crisis hits new heights
G20 leaders will pledge to "spare no effort" in ensuring fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines worldwide, and reaffirm support for debt-laden poor countries, according to reports.
The group also struck a unified tone on supporting multilateral trade and the fight against climate change, but the closing document lacks details on many of the issues dominating the virtual summit.
In a high-stakes webinar, leaders of the Group of 20 major powers have held a weekend of "digital diplomacy" to co-ordinate a response to the rampant pandemic and the worst economic recession in decades.
The unusual format, in place of a real-life meeting that coronavirus restrictions made impossible, has produced some awkward interactions, and deprived the host nation Saudi Arabia of an opportunity to showcase itself on the international stage.
US President Donald Trump made a brief appearance at the opening session on Saturday before logging off and going golfing, while other leaders braved technical quirks and the lack of opportunity for spontaneous interactions.
The two-day online gathering comes as international efforts intensify for a large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and for G20 nations to plug a US$4.5-billion ($A6.1 billion) funding shortfall.
"We have mobilised resources to address the immediate financing needs in global health to support the research, development, manufacturing and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines," the draft document said.
"We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members' commitments to incentivise innovation."
The communique offered no details however on how the effort will be funded. The final version will be released later Sunday.
In a comment echoed by other world leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the coronavirus crisis was "a test for the G20", stressing there "will be no effective response to the pandemic unless it is a global response".
US HITS CATASTROPHIC NEW HEIGHTS
Meanwhile, the US hopes to begin a sweeping program of COVID vaccinations, reaching perhaps 20 million people by year's end, top public health officials said on Sunday (local time) as cases surge across the worst-hit nation.
The beginning of vaccinations could be a crucial turning point in the battle against the virus that has claimed more than 255,000 lives in the US, the world's highest reported toll, since emerging from China late last year.
"Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunisation sites within 24 hours of approval" by the US Food and Drug Administration, Moncef Slaoui, who heads the government's coronavirus vaccine effort, told CNN.
He pointed to possible dates of December 11-12.
Mr Slaoui estimated that 30 million people would be vaccinated per month starting in January.
But top US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci, who said "maybe 20 million people will be able to get vaccinated by the middle to the end December", warned the situation could get worse before getting better if people fail to take precautions in the coming holiday season.
"We're in a very difficult situation at all levels," he said on US TV on Sunday (local time).
"With the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday normally seeing a huge surge in travel, he said, "We're really concerned" about "another spike in cases as we get colder and colder and colder into the December month - and then you start dealing with the Christmas holiday."
FDA vaccine advisers are to meet December 10 to discuss approving vaccines which pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna say are at least 95 per cent effective.
Mr Slaoui said that by May, with potentially 70 per cent of the population having been vaccinated, the country could attain "herd immunity," meaning the virus can no longer spread widely and people can move closer to resuming their pre-coronavirus way of life.
But Dr Fauci, separately, added a note of caution, saying herd immunity would come only if "you get an overwhelming majority of the people vaccinated with a highly efficacious vaccine."
A recent Gallup poll showed that four in 10 Americans still say they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, though that is down from five in 10 surveyed in September.
Officials have yet to announce which groups in the population would receive the vaccine first, though health care workers are certain to receive priority, followed by vulnerable groups like the elderly.
For now, the vaccines have not been tested on young children.
US CLOSES IN ON GRIM LANDMARK
The US recorded its 12 millionth COVID-19 case over the weekend, even as millions of Americans were expected to travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, ignoring warnings from health officials about furthering the spread of the infectious disease.
The most recent daily total of numbers of new cases neared the grim landmark of 200,000 a day and the overall total of infections burst through 12 million.
Daily numbers of new US cases have almost doubled in less than three weeks after hitting 100,000 for the first time. The record of 195,542 new cases on Friday was the latest of several recent daily highs, a tally by Johns Hopkins University found.
New data shows the pace of new US infections has quickened, with nearly one million more cases recorded in just the last 6 days before the latest record. This compares with the eight days it took to get from 10 million cases to 11 million, and the 10 days it took to get from nine million to 10 million.
More than one million people flew through US airports last Friday, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, fuelling fears of even greater spread of the virus. It was the second-heaviest domestic air traffic day since the start of the pandemic, despite pleas from health officials for Americans to stay home.
"This is the 2nd time since the pandemic passenger volume has surpassed one million," Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein wrote on Twitter.
Friday marked another milestone in the United States as the highest number of new COVID-19 cases was reported - 196,815 infections in a day.
Health officials have warned that the burgeoning wave of infections could soon overwhelm the healthcare system if people do not follow public health guidance, particularly around not travelling and mingling with other households for Thursday's traditional Thanksgiving celebration.
Still, video footage on Twitter showed more than a hundred people, wearing masks, crowding departure gates at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday. Lines for TSA checkpoints and kiosks at Chicago O'Hare airport were also long on Friday and "reminiscent of pre-pandemic times," local TV station WGN reported.
OVERSEAS TRAVEL 'NOT IMPOSSIBLE'
It comes as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced big changes to rules for mask wearing and household gatherings after the state recorded 23 days of no new cases or deaths.
From 11.59pm on Sunday, Victorians can host 15 visitors at their home per day.
Victorians will be able to host up to 30 people at home for Christmas Day lunch, with the numbers increasing to 30 visitors per household from 11.5pm on December 13.
Infants under 12 months are not included in the cap, but all other dependants are.
"That is not 30 for lunch and 30 for dinner, it is 30 across the course of the day," Premier Daniel Andrews said.
"I know that will be a large enough number for some families, and for others they will need to do some juggling."
The visitors can be from across multiple households, but the limit applies to the total number of visitors in a day.
Masks will no longer be necessary outdoors from Monday, as long as people keep a safe distance from each other. But masks will still have to be used in all indoor settings and people will have to carry a mask at all times.
"The key message is Victorians have done an amazing job and built something precious but it is so fragile," Mr Andrews said.
From midnight tonight, the NSW border to Victoria will open for the first time since July.
OVERSEAS TRAVEL 'NOT IMPOSSIBLE IN EARLY 2021'
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham says a revival in international travel is "not impossible" in the first half of 2021, despite the third wave of coronavirus wreaking havoc across Europe and the US.
Senator Birmingham said on Sunday that Australians travelling overseas would depend on the success of a vaccine rollout.
"It's not impossible and I would like to see some success in terms of the development of the vaccine," he told Sky News.
"The first half of the year might be challenging but let's just see how we go in terms of how we quickly we can secure, distribute, get that take up in relations to vaccines."
Originally published as G20's vaccine promise as US crisis hits new heights