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Virtual Summit Makes a Strong Start on Health in the UK's G7 Presidency

Meagan Byrd, Chair, Summit Studies, G7 Research Group
February 20, 2021

The G7 Virtual Summit on February 19, 2021, proved to be a substantial success on health. It was hosted by UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who previously announced a five-point plan as a new global approach to health security at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2020. The plan seeks to:

  1. Stop a new disease before it starts 
  2. Develop the manufacturing capacity for the treatments and vaccines 
  3. Design a global pandemic early warning system 
  4. Secure supply chains
  5. Cancel tariffs on the vital tools of the struggle (i.e., personal protective equipment).

On February 13, 2021, 10 Downing Street announced a G7 virtual summit to "ensure equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines around the world, prevent[ing] future pandemics, and build[ing] back better from coronavirus." International pandemic preparedness is a major priority for the UK's G7 presidency, with Johnson's five-point plan central to the issues he intends to work with G7 leaders on.

This Virtual Summit takes place almost one year after the G7 Emergency Summit on March 16, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 summit had three main objectives: accelerate the response to COVID-19, forcefully address the economic impact of the outbreak and to restore and expand growth. The 2020 statement was 794 words and made 26 precise, future-oriented, politically binding commitments. Of the total commitments, 11 were directly on health.

The 2021 Virtual Summit produced 27 precise, future-oriented, politically binding commitments, 30% of which were devoted to health. Seven were highly binding, one of the many successes from the summit.

The summit concluded with some strong successes in health. The G7 leaders committed to "intensify cooperation on the health response to COVID-19". In an effort to increase cooperation, they committed to "working with, and together to strengthen, the World Health Organisation (WHO)."

Another success of the summit is the international cooperation to bolster global health and to further health security architecture for pandemic preparedness. The G7 leaders will work with the WHO, the G20 and the Global Health Summit in Rome to achieve these commitments. In this cooperation, they pledge to strengthen universal health coverage and explore the possibility of a global health treaty.

In the weeks leading up to the virtual summit, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, spoke at the Chatham House about setting goals for the UK's G7 presidency and reinvigorating the international health system. Hancock's speech identified three areas of immediate action for the G7 agenda.

The first area is health security for everyone. This area aims to refocus on the founding ideal of the WHO that "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being." The second area is clinical trials. Hancock identified the need to progress in clinical trials in identifying vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics that work. To progress, there needs to be a way for successful trials to be benefit the world. The third and final area of action is antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Although there have already been significant advances, there is a need for work on bacterial resistance, which could have an impact as deadly as COVID-19. These areas are building on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's five-point plan from UNGA.

The G7 leaders have made a strong start in the road to the Cornwall Summit on June 11–13, 2021. The commitments made at the Virtual Summit focus on international cooperation and action on health, which are key in formulating the coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination development and distribution and the long road to recovery in the aftermath.

In order to sustain that strength, the G7 should continue to hold pre-summit meetings at both the ministerial and leaders' levels, and through synchronous commitments with other issues on the G7 agenda to enhance the recovery process.

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