U.S. steers clear of global coronavirus vaccine online pledging conference

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World leaders will hold an online pledging “marathon” on Monday to raise at least 7.5 billion euros ($11.6 billion Cdn) for research into a possible vaccine and treatments for the coronavirus, but the United States won’t be directly involved.

Organizers include the European Union, non-EU states Britain and Norway, as well as Japan, Canada and Saudi Arabia. They aim to raise funds over several weeks or months, building on efforts by the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and wealthy benefactors supporting the effort.

The funds collected will go toward diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, the European Commission said in a press release last week.

World leaders are set to begin speaking at 9 a.m. ET, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the fifth to speak. The event will be streamed on the European Union’s Coronavirus Global Response website.

A list of world leaders due to speak seen by Reuters did not include any U.S. officials, and EU diplomats said the United States was not taking part, although it is a major donor of the United Nations and UN bodies. The U.S. embassy was not immediately available for comment.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on April 15 he would halt funding to the World Health Organization, whose director general is due to address the conference, over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

As organizers, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are among those who are due to speak.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang is also expected to speak and make a pledge, according to the protocol list, although China is not leading the conference.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month called the online pledging conference “a real marathon,” saying a vaccine to the respiratory disease COVID-19 was needed “in every corner of the world … at affordable prices.”

Donation figures may not be known immediately. It is unclear how much of the money which will be pledged represents new funding, as financial commitments made earlier this year will also be included.

Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the Group of 20 industrialized countries, has pledged $500 million. Norway, Turkey and Israel are also expected to pledge sums.

Some EU officials have raised concerns about countries counting in money already pledged earlier this year, however.

Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, warned that although the initial wave of transmissions of the coronavirus had passed its peak in most countries in Europe, “this is not going to end anytime soon.”

She told EU lawmakers on Monday that there were still four countries – Poland, Romania, Sweden and Britain – where there had been “no substantial changes in the last 14 days” in terms of a possible fall in infection rates.

The 7.5 billion euro target is an initial figure. Von der Leyen has said countries will need more money over time.

Britain will hold another online donor summit on June 4.

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