United G20 agrees on measures to combat coronavirus pandemic

King Salman presides over an extraordinary meeting of G20 leaders where all delegates put social distancing to the extreme in a virtual conference, with all delegates dialing in from around the world. (SPA)
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Updated 27 March 2020

United G20 agrees on measures to combat coronavirus pandemic

  • Group of 20 leaders pledge to minimize disruption to trade and global supply chains and coordinate public health and financial measures

DUBAI: Leaders of the biggest countries on Thursday took part in an extraordinary “virtual summit,” under the auspices of the Saudi Arabia G20 presidency, to combat the threat to lives and livelihood from the coronavirus disease COVID-19 — and issued a call for global action in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

“We are strongly committed to presenting a united front against this common threat,” they said after two hours of digital debate organized by the Saudi G20 team in Riyadh.

“We will protect human life, restore global economic stability and lay out solid foundations for strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,” the leaders added in their joint statement.

The traditional communique from the national leaders and other international leaders — which is expected after G20 summits but often delayed as a result of last-minute quibbles about wording and content — was published only minutes after King Salman closed the meeting.

In the face of the global pandemic, there seemed to be little disagreement that urgent and concerted action was necessary.

“The G20 is committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic, along with the World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, United Nations and other international organizations, working within their existing mandates. We are determined to spare no effort, both individually and collectively,” the leaders said.

The communique listed the G20’s priorities: To protect lives, safeguard jobs and incomes, restore confidence, preserve financial stability, revive growth and recover stronger.

It also pledged to minimize disruption to trade and global supply chains, provide help to poorer countries, and coordinate public health and financial measures.

The meeting — the first “virtual” summit in the G20’s 21-year history — was staged ahead of the planned full gathering in Riyadh in November, and conducted digitally because of the restrictions on air travel.

It had a two-fold agenda: To discuss ways to tackle the life-threatening COVID-19 disease, and how to mitigate the economic and financial repercussions of the outbreak.

Because of the volatility in global energy markets, caused by falling demand and a surge in supply following the collapse of the OPEC+ output-curb agreement two weeks ago, some oil-industry observers had expected the meeting to address energy issues, too. However, this was never part of the G20 agenda, and the words “oil” and “energy” did not appear in the final 1,500-word communique.

On the need to fight the global pandemic, the G20 agreed “to take all necessary health measures and seek to ensure adequate financing to contain the pandemic and protect people, especially the most vulnerable.”


AS IT HAPPENED: Read our live story of the first every virtual G20 summit. 


The leaders said they would share medical information and strengthen global health systems, as well as cooperating on the search for, and production of, treatments for the virus.

“We will expand manufacturing capacity to meet the increasing needs for medical supplies and ensure these are made widely available, at an affordable price, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed and as quickly as possible,” they said in the communique.

The leaders also made a commitment to provide resources to a range of international health organizations on a voluntary basis, and asked other countries, organizations and philanthropies to do the same.

Further measures to develop anti-pandemic skills and resources that can be used to tackle infectious diseases will be discussed by the WHO and G20 finance and health ministers at the next meeting “with a view to establish a global initiative on pandemic preparedness and response.”

“This initiative will capitalize on existing programs to align priorities in global preparedness and act as a universal, efficient, sustained-funding and coordination platform to accelerate the development and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments,” the G20 added.

As an organization with its origins in meetings of economic and financial policymakers, the G20 paid special attention to the effects the pandemic is having on economic growth and stock markets, which have suffered big reversals in the past two weeks.

“We will use all available policy tools to minimize the economic and social damage from the pandemic, restore global growth, maintain market stability and strengthen resilience,” the leaders stated in their communique.

“We are injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.

“We will continue to conduct bold and large-scale fiscal support. Collective G20 action will amplify its impact, ensure coherence and harness synergies. The magnitude and scope of this response will get the global economy back on its feet and set a strong basis for the protection of jobs and the recovery of growth,” they added.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers — who have met four times since fears about the economic effects of the virus outbreak began to affect the global economy — will continue to meet regularly, under Saudi auspices, to “develop a G20 action plan in response to COVID-19 and work closely with international organizations to swiftly deliver the appropriate international financial assistance.”

Governments around the world — with the exception of the second-biggest economy, China — have pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into support mechanisms for financial and credit markets. The communique was unanimous, leading some observers to suggest that China is planning a big intervention in financial markets.

“We support the extraordinary measures taken by central banks consistent with their mandates. Central banks have acted to support the flow of credit to households and businesses, promote financial stability and enhance liquidity in global markets,” the leaders said.

In addition, the communique included a commitment that they will consider the effects of the pandemic on heavily indebted developing countries.

The G20 also displayed a united front on global trade and international cooperation, two issues that have proved divisive recently as the US has confronted several nations over trade and multinational alliances.

“We commit to continue working together to facilitate international trade and coordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.”

Emergency measures aimed at protecting health will be targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary. We task our trade ministers to assess the impact of the pandemic on trade,” the leaders agreed.

“We reiterate our goal to realize a free, fair, nondiscriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open,” they added, pledging to coordinate responses to the virus threat “to avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.” 

The G20 also highlighted the risks to the poorer African countries with less-developed health systems during the current emergency.

“We consider that consolidating Africa’s health defense is a key for the resilience of global health,” the leaders said.

They also praised the decision of the international sporting authorities to delay the Olympic Games that were due to be staged this summer in Japan — a G20 member — and pledged that the event will go ahead no later than summer 2021 “as a symbol of human resilience.”

 


For Saudis stranded abroad due to pandemic, Kingdom’s embassies offer crucial lifeline

Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi reassuring Saudis about their safe return to the Kingdom. Saudi missions around the world continue to provide advice and accommodation for stranded citizens. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 49 min 17 sec ago

For Saudis stranded abroad due to pandemic, Kingdom’s embassies offer crucial lifeline

  • Saudis stranded abroad by coronavirus tell Arab News how they cope

RIYADH: Hundreds of Saudi citizens stranded abroad due to the coronavirus travel bans are living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the Kingdom.
Since the first case of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was reported in Saudi Arabia, the government has been taking all necessary measures to protect its people through the closure of schools and offices to the halting of international and domestic flights.
And Saudi embassies around the world have been working day and night to organize the safe return of citizens, posting flight deadlines and important contact numbers on Twitter.
However, not all Saudis studying, working or on vacation in other countries have been able to make it home.
As the world battles with the pandemic, the Saudi government has been trying to ensure the well-being and health of its citizens stranded abroad, urging Saudi nationals to abide by the rules and regulations of the countries of their residence.
The Kingdom has expanded a ban on international flights for two weeks to help authorities fight the virus effectively within the country.
A number of Saudi families, tourists, businesspeople and students have found themselves stuck in the US capital, Washington, DC with no idea of when the next evacuation flights will take place.
However, the Saudi Embassy has provided luxury hotel accommodation for stranded Saudi nations including full-board meals and free laundry services.
Ayman Nassief and his family were on a two-week holiday in Orlando, Florida when the travel ban came in.
“When they closed Disney World in Orlando, we sensed something, and decided to go back to Washington to take the first flight to Saudi Arabia,” said Nasseif, an architect from Jeddah who had traveled to the US with his wife Safinaz Salamah, a pediatrician, and their daughter Hatoon, a freelance graphic designer.
“I knew that the flight had been canceled before I arrived in DC, so I called the embassy on their dedicated hotline. The embassy immediately made arrangements for our stay at the Hilton McLean hotel.”
The Saudi Ministry of Health made it mandatory for people entering the Kingdom after March 11 to go into 14-day quarantine and Nasseif said his family’s places of work had been very cooperative and understanding over their situation.

 

 

Safinaz said she was keen to get back to Saudi as soon as possible to help in her role as a pediatrician. “I wish I was there to return some of the favor that the government has bestowed upon me.
“I sit here with my family at the expense of the embassy; it is taking care of our accommodation, food and even paying for our laundry here. Now I really know what it means to be Saudi,” she added.
Nasseif said: “We understand the burden on the government, and we want to go back as soon as possible, but we realize how big the pandemic is. It put us at ease that the government was taking extreme measures to fight the virus, and we stand along with them.”
Another Saudi citizen, Faten Ahmed, became stranded at the Hilton McLean after her flight home was canceled during a visit to Florida to see her brother.
“Although I am missing my family and home, the help I have received here has made it up for me. I have nothing to complain about. I only hope the world passes through this crisis with the minimum of lost lives.”
Ahmed had only been in Miami for 24 hours before she heard the travel ban rumors and drove immediately to Orlando to catch the first available flight to Washington, DC. However, when she got there all flights to Saudi Arabia had been grounded.

Ibtihaj Al-Hanaki who was in the US capital for a brief personal trip was also unable to return due to the pandemic. Her flight was one of the last to land in the city from the Kingdom before things were shut down.
“I didn’t think that things will escalate this fast, when I finished my business here I tried to go back, but unfortunately it was too late,” the mother of two boys, 2 and 5, told Arab News. “I miss them too much, I didn’t plan to leave them for a long period, and they weren’t prepared for that,” she said.
Nevertheless, Al-Hanaki praised the action of her country to take strict precautions during the coronavirus outbreak, which has brought most of the world to a halt.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi embassies around the world have been working to organize the safe return of citizens, posting flight deadlines and important contact numbers on Twitter.

• Saudi Embassy in Washington has provided approximately 40,000 Saudi students in the US with clear guidance and advisories regarding how to ensure that their studies are not disrupted.

Fahad Nazer, spokesperson at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, told Arab News: “The well-being of Saudi citizens abroad is the top priority of all of the Kingdom’s diplomatic missions around the world.
“The Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan is personally overseeing the embassy’s effort to ensure that Saudis currently unable to return to the Kingdom due to the international travel restrictions, have adequate accommodation until the restrictions are lifted.
“The Kingdom’s embassy in Washington, in addition to its consulates in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston have spared no effort to make sure that the approximately 600 Saudi citizens who were visiting the US and are currently unable to return to the Kingdom have all their needs met,” said Nazer.

A group of Saudis gathered in the lobby of a hotel in Washington, DC.

“The accommodation, provided free of charge, includes transportation from airports to hotels and lodging at hotels, along with complimentary meals. In addition, the Kingdom’s cultural mission in Washington has provided approximately 40,000 Saudi students in the US with clear guidance and advisories regarding how to ensure that their studies are not disrupted, including guidance on distance learning.”
The embassy and consulates in the US have also advised all Saudis to strictly adhere to the public health and safety advisories issued by the states they reside in.
Saudi embassies and consulates around the world continue to closely monitor the spread of the coronavirus and provide advice and accommodation for stranded citizens.
In Indonesia, a video went viral of the Saudi ambassador to the country, Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi, reassuring a large crowd in an airport that they would all be cared for. “Our responsibility lies in overseeing that we care for you during this time,” he said.
The Saudi Embassy in Indonesia flew out 800 citizens and those that failed to make the flight have been provided free accommodation.
“There is no doubt that the authorities in the Kingdom are working hard for their return, but after taking all necessary precautions,” the envoy added.
The Saudi Embassy in Egypt helped to evacuate 5,900 Saudis in the space of 72 hours with the Kingdom’s ambassador, Osama Nugali, personally overseeing operations at the airport.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been at the forefront of caring for its citizens whether in the country or abroad. The instructions we received from the leadership were to help facilitate and to accommodate the needs of our citizens during this crucial time,” he told Arab News.