By Stefan J. Bos
With social distancing the world's new norm, world leaders choose video conferencing to raise the billions of dollars needed for research into a possible vaccine.
The gathering came after the United Nations had a grim warning to the billions of people facing gripping lockdowns or other restrictions. It said that a full return to normal life would only be possible if a vaccine is available. However, Italy, France, and Spain, who were among the hardest-hit European nations, began loosening some coronavirus restrictions.
The European Union organized Monday's donors' meeting. Co-hosting the event was Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the European Commission, the EU's executive.
European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, views the initiative as part of global effort to tackle the world's most significant health crisis since World War Two. "The only possibility to defeat this virus is by finding a vaccine," the top diplomat said. "There are many many activities. But we thought it is a global endeavor. We need a joint global action to have a coordinated approach to find a vaccine. When we have a vaccine to produce it and to deploy it all over the world," she added.
"Therefore we have on Monday, May 4 an online pledging conference and we hope that we're gonna raise up to $8 billion," Von der Leyen explained. But she also cautioned that countries would need more money over time.
The counting of money was already underway Monday. Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the Group of 20 industrialized nations, pledged $500 million. But some EU officials have reportedly raised concerns about countries counting in money already allocated earlier this year.
Ahead of Monday's online pledging marathon, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among the most vocal in supporting the initiative.
They expressed their support in an open letter published in weekend newspapers. The leaders wrote that the funds raised Monday would "kickstart unprecedented global cooperation between scientists and regulators, industry and governments, international organizations, foundations, and healthcare professionals."
They added: "If we can develop a vaccine that is produced by the world, for the whole world, this will be a unique global public good
of the 21st Century." They are building on efforts by the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and wealthy individuals.
The Pope's appeal
Monday's meeting followed an appeal by Pope Francis on Sunday when he called for international scientific cooperation in discovering a vaccine for the coronavirus. He said any successful vaccine should be made available around the world.
Britain will hold another online donor summit on June 4.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would already urge countries on Monday to "pull together." He said nations have to meet what he called "the most urgent shared endeavor of our lifetimes." Johnson will also confirm Britain's pledge of 388 million pounds or some 483 million dollars for vaccine research, testing, and treatment.
That has personal reasons as well. Johnson spent three nights battling for his life in intensive care with the coronavirus disease COVID-19. The prime minister said he 'owes his life' to those who cared for him.