Leaders of the world’s most powerful economies have convened virtually with the aim of co-ordinating a global response to the coronavirus.
The unusual video call in lieu of a physical gathering comes as governments around the world stress the importance of social distancing to curb the spread of the highly-infectious virus.
The meeting comes amid criticism that the world’s wealthiest countries have not taken enough action to combat the virus or its economic impact globally as people lose their incomes due to closures, curfews and lockdowns.
Saudi Arabia, which is presiding over the G20 this year, opened the meeting with an urgent appeal by King Salman for the world’s most powerful nations to finance the research and development of a vaccine for the virus, which causes an illness known as Covid-19, and to ensure the availability of vital medical supplies and equipment.
The Saudi monarch said: “This human crisis requires a global response. The world counts on us to come together and co-operate in order to face this challenge.”
The meeting was not open to the media to observe. The Saudi government distributed the king’s remarks to the press.
Images from the video conference were shared on social media by some of the participants. World leaders like India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, whose wife contracted the virus, could be seen in little boxes on a screen seated at desks in photos from European Council President Charles Michel.
US President Donald Trump was shown seated at the end of a long conference table in Washington with other American officials in photos shared by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
The meeting was also expected to include Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was taking part in the summit from her home in Berlin where she is in quarantine after a doctor who gave her a pneumonia vaccine had tested positive for the virus. Two tests on Mrs Merkel have come back negative, but she will still need more tests.
The virtual summit also included leaders from the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Labour Organisation and others.
The global death toll from the virus has climbed past 22,000 and the number of infections has surpassed 480,000, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as a temperature and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Disagreement between the countries erupted this week among the Group of 7 leading industrialised democracies, which sparred over whether to call out China as the source of coronavirus. The foreign ministers were unable to agree on a US push to identify it as the “Wuhan virus” in reference to the city in China where it first appeared. As a result, the group opted against releasing a statement after the call.