WHO hails 'global solidarity' as world leaders raise $8bn for Covid-19 vaccine


World leaders on called Monday for cooperation in the quest for a coronavirus vaccine, as they pledged $8.1 billion at a fundraising telethon.

Covid-19 has killed nearly a quarter of a million people around the world - 140 000 of them in Europe - and Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission and the host of the videoconference, said a vaccine is the best chance of beating the disease.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the fundraising as a powerful show of "global solidarity".

Major European powers, along with Japan and Canada, made the biggest pledges from around 40 countries, but there was no official US representation, weakening the event and raising the prospect of an uncoordinated competition to develop and produce a vaccine.

Some wealthy American individuals did take part, and pop star Madonna's million-dollar contribution was feted by EU officials.

'A down payment'

The conference narrowly missed its target of 7.5 billion euros - although a handful of contributors did not put a sum on their pledges - but UN chief Antonio Guterres warned much more would be needed, putting the final sum required near 38 billion euros (about $41bn).

"These funds are a kind of down payment for the development of new tools at the speed needed," Guterres told the conference. "But to reach everyone everywhere we likely need five times that amount."

In total around 40 countries, along with UN and philanthropic bodies - including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - and research institutes made donations.

But the initiative was undermined by the absence of the United States, with President Donald Trump in open warfare with the WHO over its handling of the pandemic.

US 'isolating themselves'

While putting an upbeat gloss on the event in public, privately EU officials were disappointed the US did not take part.

"The EU responded favourably to a call for global action, the US refused. They are the ones who are isolating themselves," one official said.

"We're only at the start of the process. We hope the American government will join the common effort."

A spokesperson for the US mission to the United Nations in Geneva said Washington "welcomes efforts by other countries to mobilise resources to mitigate and ultimately end the Covid-19 pandemic."

'Vaccine war'

Isabelle Marchais, an expert with the Delors Institute thinktank, said the US was ready to "put all its forces into the battle" to win a "vaccine war".

In March, Germany was forced to insist that the rights to coronavirus vaccine research were not for sale after reports Trump wanted the US to buy exclusive access to one being developed by a German biotech firm.

In recent days the Trump administration has stepped up pressure on China, where the outbreak began, claiming it originated in a laboratory in the city of Wuhan.

Without mentioning Washington, China implicitly hit back at the donor conference, where it was represented by its ambassador to the EU.

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