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Promising Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention
at the G7's Cornwall Summit
John Kirton and Meagan Byrd, G7 Research Group
June 12, 2021
The second day of the G7's Cornwall Summit started with another headline contribution, following one issued the day before. The first announcement, issued on June 11, promised that the COVID-19 pandemic would be conquered in the coming year. The second promised there will never be followed by another pandemic from a source similar to the one that caused COVID-19 and such comparable global devastation. At the leaders' third session, ending the formal meetings on their second day, they agreed on a "Carbis Bay Declaration" to prevent viruses from again passing from animals to humans to cause death and destruction to the degree that COVID-19 has.
The British G7 presidency announced that the G7 leaders, who met with their colleagues from India, Australia, Korea and South Africa, would take three key steps:
This initiative was presented as fulfilling the UK presidency's G7 priorities as announced in the five-point plan Boris Johnson presented to the United Nations in September 2020. The relevant specific G7 commitments would be announced on the summit's final day.
Compliance with these commitments is likely to be strong, propelled by several forces that have already appeared.
First, the G7 should get off to a fast start by the UK's creation of a new centre in England, financed by £10 million from the British government and another £14.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. New money mobilized and the new scientific support it financed would help implementation in the UK and the G7 beyond.
Second, a reformed and reinforced WHO will be an integral part of the plan.
Third, G7 members possess the globally predominant specialized capability. They have already produced in record time – in the United Kingdom, United States and Germany – the first fully safe, effective, transparently tested and thus trusted vaccines against COVID-19. They did so with massive financial and other support from the start from the governments of the UK and US, using the superb scientific expertise from the best university in the world located there. And G7 members contain two thirds of the pharmaceutical market in the world.
Moreover, the announcement suggested the G7 commitments would contain some of the instruments that have improved G7 members' compliance with their leaders' health commitment in the past. Three stand out:
1. Pre-summit ministerial meetings on health, which the G7 held in early June.
2. More health commitments, which the Cornwall Summit is very likely to make.
3. Reference to the WHO, which is a core component of the pandemic preparedness plan.
Holding ministerial meetings before a summit increases G7 members' compliance with summit commitments on the relevant subject. In the four summits when a pre-summit health ministerial took place (2006, 2015, 2016 and 2020), compliance with summit health commitments averaged 85% – 11% higher than the overall compliance average on health.
Increasing the number of commitments on health is another way to increase compliance. The 11 summits with the highest compliance averaged 89%, and the lowest 11 summits averaged only 60%. Those 11 summits with the highest compliance produced 40% more commitments than the summits with the lowest compliance.
Finally, the WHO could increase G7 members' compliance. The highest scoring 11 summits produced commitments with more than seven references to the WHO, and the lowest scoring 11 summits produced commitments with fewer than seven references to the WHO.
There is thus good reason to believe that the summit commitments made at Cornwall to bring this initiative to life will become promises kept, before the next G7 summit and the next zoonotic pandemic appeared.
Still, one key question remains.
Will this initiative be the equivalent of putting the G7's finger in the dyke 100 days after the water bursts through, rather than preventing the breech in the first place? To solve the problem at source, the G7 should act to keep animals and their viruses in their own homes, far away from humans. This means preserving and restoring the natural habitat where these animals have lived for millennia. The G7 thus needs to act far more ambitiously than ever before to build nature-based solutions, bolster nature, and explicitly link climate change and biodiversity to animal and human health.
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