Britain becomes largest contributor to worldwide search for coronavirus vaccine

UK gives £210 million as G20 world leaders hold virtual gathering to discuss tackling outbreak

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Boris Jonson, the Prime Minister speaking in Downing Street
Boris Jonson, the Prime Minister speaking in Downing Street Credit: Photo by LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Britain is now the largest contributor to the worldwide effort to find a coronavirus vaccine after donating £210 million in new aid funding, Downing Street has said.

Boris Johnson made the announcement as world leaders from the 20 most industrialised nations, known as the G20, held a virtual summit to discuss tackling the virus outbreak. 

The group released a joint statement saying that "global action, solidarity and international co-operation" were needed now more than ever.

Releasing the statement alone proved a step more productive than a video conference between G7 foreign ministers earlier this week, which failed agree a common text. 

Multiple media reports said a key sticking point was US secretary of state Michael Pompeo's insistence that coronavirus be called the "Wuhan virus" in any statement. 

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The name relates to the region of China in which the outbreak began. Donald Trump has repeatedly used the phrase "Chinese flu" to describe coronavirus. 

Critics say the term is an attempt to deflect blame to China and could trigger xenophobia, but Trump supporters say it merely reflects the origins of the virus. 

Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, reportedly said on Thursday that "had China done the right thing, much of the world would have been spared this pestilence". 

Mr Trump has claimed China delayed in alerting world leaders to the problem. He has recently indicated he will stop using the "Chinese virus" phrase, noting that China has suffered from the outbreak. 

Mr Johnson praised Britain's health workers as he announced funding for the hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine, being carried out by scientists across the world. 

"While our brilliant doctors and nurses fight coronavirus at home, this record British funding will help to find a vaccine for the entire world. UK medics and researchers are at the forefront of this pioneering work," the Prime Minister said.

"My call to every G20 country, and to governments around the world, is to step up and help us defeat this virus. In the meantime, I want to repeat to everyone that they should stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives."

Antonio Guterres, the head of the United Nations, urged G20 leaders to adopt a "wartime" plan to tackle the pandemic and said victory was not yet in sight. 

“We are at war with a virus – and not winning it," Mr Guterres said, adding that the world was still only at the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of coronavirus cases. 

"It took the world three months to reach 100,000 confirmed cases of infection. The next 100,000 happened in just 12 days. The third took four days. The fourth, just one and a half," he said. 

In a joint statement, leaders of the G20 group promised a "transparent, robust, co-ordinated, large-scale and science-based global response in the spirit of solidarity".

"Tackling the pandemic and its intertwined health, social and economic impacts is our absolute priority," they said, promising to do "whatever it takes".

The leaders promised to expand manufacturing capacity to meet increasing needs for medical supplies "and ensure these are made widely available, at an affordable price, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed and as quickly as possible".

They also promised to provide immediate resources to the World Health Organisation's Covid-19 solidarity response fund, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI) and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, on a voluntary basis.

Mr Trump said of the G20 meeting that world leaders had agreed to "immediately share information and data" about the virus. "There is great uniformity, I think. It was a great meeting, tremendous spirit," he said. 

He pledged to continue working with America's "friends and partners" to tackle the pandemic. 

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The UK, along with many other countries, is channelling funding to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is supporting the development of vaccines that will be available throughout the world.

"Future vaccines will be made available at the lowest possible price to the NHS and other countries' healthcare systems."