Covid-19: Global challenges need concerted efforts, Tony Blair and Indian minister say

Dubai - Both leaders stress on importance of vaccination during India Global Forum in London.

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Suneeti Ahuja Kohli

Published: Wed 30 Jun 2021, 4:53 PM

Last updated: Wed 30 Jun 2021, 4:54 PM

It is important for leaders to rise above vaccine nationalism and ensure everyone gets inoculated, said Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the UK and India's Minister of External Affairs, Dr S. Jaishankar, at the India Global Forum in London on Wednesday.

“The reason why it's important to get the world vaccinated is not just a humanitarian gesture. It is in our own interest because if we don’t (vaccinate everyone), we will get fresh variants and some of those variants can escape and circumvent the vaccines,” Blair said, adding,

“I think the G20 this year will be a very big moment for pandemic preparedness.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed fault lines in global cooperation and points at an urgent need to create a global infrastructure for pandemic preparedness. More than 182 million people have been infected with deaths nearing four-million mark since the first Covid-19 infection was detected in China in January last year. “There are 14 vaccines. It should be possible to coordinate who should be producing vaccines. But everyone is trying to beg, borrow, or steal. This is a global failure,” said Blair.

“One of the paradoxes of our era is that real problems are all global — climate change, terrorism, pandemics but our responses tend to be national. Just look back at the last year-and-a-half and see which country has not thought nationally. Unless we are able to overcome that and look at international coordination and cooperation, we are not going to be able to get on top of these issues. Vaccines is a very good example because the reality is nobody can make vaccines by themselves. The world has to come together and scale up action,” said Dr Jaishankar.

One of the global platforms that can address such issues and forge greater cooperation is G20, which unlike G7 is more diverse in its representation and not centered around the West. “At the end of this year in November, when the G20 happens under Italy's chairmanship, I think it's going to be really really important that we take some big decisions around global cooperation that allows us to shorten the time between a pandemic developing and containing it.”

Talking about vaccine hesitancy, Blair mentioned using the power of data effectively to counter scepticism. “I think if we put data out in the right way, it would be highly persuasive for people in showing that vaccines are effective. This points at the importance of collecting data and the importance of having common standards around verifying and credentialing vaccinations. I do think that when we get international travel going again, we are going to find that the countries are going to be asking for proof of vaccination status. And I think this is going to be a very, very important part of getting the world moving.”

On common challenges of climate change, Dr Jaishankar said, there aren’t too many climate sceptics in India, and the issue about recognising the problem, but resourcing of solutions. “If you look at the history of how we've dealt with climate change, we've seen promises. We have had conference after conference, but we've seen continuous inability to live up to those promises. The real issue is do we have the commitment to put the resources to deal with this problem, and that's something which particularly the countries who have occupied much of the open space have to find answers.”

The Indian minister went on to support developing nations in their drive to expand their economies. “The developed world should realise that in large parts of the world we are actually building for the first time. We have technologies and solutions; the challenge is to make them available at affordable prices and make them accessible.”

If the developed world is unable to find ways to make a continent like Africa grow in a sustainable way, it's going to be very difficult to reach climate change objectives. We have to also ensure that financing is available, added the Indian minister.

India on its part has been pushing a lot of green energy projects. “Today, we have one of the largest solar programmes in the world. And we've also been using both bilateral partnership programs and International Solar Alliance to push green, electricity generation, especially in Africa.”

The two world leaders also agreed that age-old global institutions like the WHO and UN Security Council need to be reformed to include emerging players like India.

“It’s very hard to get an agreement on UN reforms, because the countries that have positions don’t want to give it up, like Britain, for example. Yet, you can't justify a situation where India is not a permanent member of the Security Council,” said Blair.

On Big Tech, Blair said, “Yes, we should look at Big Tech and how they operate, but we should bear in mind that technology has immense capability to liberate and advance humankind.”

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