Leaders of the Group of Seven economic powers are holding their first meeting of 2021 on Friday, and vowing to share coronavirus vaccines with the world’s poorest countries, though details of how soon and how much they will give remain scarce.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, which holds the G7 presidency this year, is meeting virtually with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States to discuss international challenges — chief among them the pandemic that has killed almost 2.5 million people around the world.
Wealthy nations have snapped up hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines against the virus, while some countries in the developing world have little or none.
Johnson, whose country has had almost 120,000 coronavirus deaths, will promise to give “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the UN-backed COVAX effort to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people, and will encourage other G7 countries to do the same, the British government said.
But Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said it is “difficult to say with any kind of certainty” when or how much Britain could donate.
“We’re not really able to give with certainty either a timescale or the numbers involved,” he told the BBC.
French President Emmanuel Macron gave a firmer target, saying Europe and the U.S. should allocate up to five per cent of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the poorest countries “very fast, so that people on the ground see it happening.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Macron noted that Russia and China have been quick to offer doses of their own products to some African nations.
Macron said that “hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries” while the vaccination effort in poor countries has barely started.
“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it’s paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines,” he said. “You can see the Chinese strategy, and the Russian strategy too.”
Development and aid groups said rich Western countries needed to do more, and soon.
“The virus won’t wait on us to be ready before it mutates, so we need to get these vaccines around the world as quickly as possible,” said Romilly Greenhill, U.K. director of anti-poverty group the One Campaign.
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America’s G7 allies are keen to impress President Joe Biden at his first major multilateral engagement since taking office. They are hopeful that U.S. re-engagement with the world following the “America first” years under Donald Trump will mean a more co-ordinated response on issues including COVID-19 and climate change.
Friday’s G7 meeting — and a speech by Biden at the Munich Security Conference the same day — comes the day the United States officially rejoins the Paris climate agreement, the largest international effort to curb global warming. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the landmark accord in 2017.
Biden has pledged to join the COVAX initiative, which Trump refused to support, and to distribute $4 billion in U.S. funding to the program. The White House says he will emphasize the need for global co-ordination on vaccine production, distribution and supplies when he speaks at Friday’s G-7 meeting.
For Johnson, the G7 presidency is a chance to demonstrate Britain is still a key global player following its exit from the EU, which became complete at the end of 2020. A full G7 summit is scheduled to take place in June at the Carbis Bay seaside resort in southwest England. British officials are hopeful it can take place in person, though at a reduced scale because social distancing rules and other restrictions are likely still to be in place.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
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As of early Friday morning, Canada had reported 837,502 cases of COVID-19, with 32,587 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,498.
Health officials are expected to provide updated modelling about COVID-19 in Canada on Friday morning. The Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement Thursday that health officials are observing a “steady decline in COVID-19 activity.”
“While these surveillance data and modelling forecasts suggest that community-based measures are having an effect and that our collective effort is continuing to make a difference, it is crucial that strong measures are kept in place in order to maintain a steady downward trend,” the statement said.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 380. All of the new cases are in the Eastern Health region, which includes the metro area of St. John’s, where an outbreak has been growing since last week.
In Ontario, the province reported 1,038 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 44 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 758, with 277 COVID-19 patients in the province’s intensive care units.
Residents in Ontario’s COVID-19 hot spots could find out today whether the provincial government will lift a stay-at-home order and other restrictions next week.
Earlier this month, officials said they planned to roll back the order and move Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and North Bay to the tiered pandemic restrictions system on Tuesday. But the top doctors for Toronto and Peel have asked for that to be delayed until at least March 9, as variant strains remain a threat.
Quebec, meanwhile, reported 900 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths on Thursday. According to the province, hospitalizations stood at 747, with 129 COVID-19 patients in ICU.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 139 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths, while Saskatchewan reported 146 new cases.
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Alberta, meanwhile, reported 415 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths on Thursday.
In British Columbia, health officials reported 617 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.
Across the North, there were six new cases of COVID-19 recorded in Nunavut on Thursday — all in the community of Arviat. There were no new cases reported in Yukon or the Northwest Territories.
Here’s a look at what else is happening across Canada:
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 110.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 62.1 million of those cases listed as recovered on a tracking site run by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.4 million.
In Africa, an African Union-created task force working to secure COVID-19 vaccines says Russia has offered 300 million doses of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine. The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said in a statement Friday that the body is “tremendously proud” to offer the doses to Africa’s 54 countries. The statement says the Sputnik V doses will be available in May.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan confirmed a new variant of COVID-19, and an infection cluster emerged at a Tokyo immigration facility.
South Korea may consider a fifth round of COVID-19 cash handouts, the prime minister said, even as the details of a planned fourth cash payout have yet to be completed.
China’s Sinovac delivered 1 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac to Hong Kong on Friday evening. Government officials approved Sinovac’s two-dose vaccine on Thursday. The semi-autonomous city is relying on three vaccines and has purchased 22.5 million doses in total.
Priority groups include health-care workers and those above the age of 60, as well as essential workers. Online appointments will begin on Tuesday.
In Europe, the head of Germany’s disease control agency warned Friday that the drop in new coronavirus cases has levelled off even as the share of more contagious variants is rising. Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Germany may be heading toward another “turning point” in the pandemic after weeks of falling infections.
His agency reported 9,113 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past day and 508 deaths. Germany has recorded almost 2.4 million cases and 67,206 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this week Health Minister Jens Spahn said the share of the more contagious variant first detected in Britain has reached about 22 per cent in Germany, from six per cent two weeks ago.
Ireland will remain under significant restrictions until the end of April, the prime minister was quoted as saying.
In the Americas, Venezuela started vaccinating health workers with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, adding it hopes to inoculate 70 per cent of the country’s population by year-end.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia this week approved the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET