SINGAPORE - With the Covid-19 pandemic dominating the agenda on the first day of the Riyadh Group of 20 (G-20) summit on Saturday (Nov 21), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on world leaders to work together to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines, and to boost surveillance networks for diseases.
Speaking at the first session of the two-day meeting, held virtually owing to travel restrictions, PM Lee told G-20 leaders that the group is well-placed to coordinate and drive the global response required to tackle the crisis.
He noted that the Saudi presidency had galvanised international action by coordinating fiscal resources, priorities and policies on a global level, by supporting the most vulnerable countries, and by completing a G-20 Action Plan for a strong and sustainable economic recovery.
Singapore fully supports these efforts, said Mr Lee, who put forward two suggestions on what more G-20 countries could do together.
The first is to ensure affordable and equitable access to vaccines - a point also made by other leaders, including Saudi Arabia's King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who chaired the meeting.
The scale of the pandemic led to a scramble for medical supplies earlier this year with some countries limiting exports, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned about a similar situation with "vaccine nationalism".
Mr Lee said he was glad the G-20 had advanced vaccine multilateralism by backing global initiatives such as the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator and the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) Facility, which were set up to ensure that the distribution of any new vaccines will be shared equally.
Singapore is a co-chair of the Friends of Covax Facility, and will do its part in contributing to the Covax Advance Market Commitment - which helps fund vaccines for lower-income countries - he added. It will also continue to work closely with the WHO and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to accelerate vaccine development and enhance long-term pandemic preparedness, he said.
The second suggestion Mr Lee made was to strengthen global disease surveillance networks so that the world will be better prepared for the next pandemic. "Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the whole world. But the next pandemic - Disease X - may be more contagious and far deadlier," he said.
He added that the effectiveness of such networks depends on countries investing in their domestic surveillance and response capabilities as well as on their willingness to share information with one another.
Mr Lee also hoped that all countries would embrace multilateral cooperation under the leadership of the WHO, saying: "Covid-19 has reinforced the need for countries to work together. Ultimately, no country is safe until every country is safe."
"Singapore stands ready to support the G-20 in its endeavours to reinvigorate multilateralism - and to create a fair, predictable and stable international order, which will allow every country, big and small, to grow and prosper," he added.
The G-20 comprises 19 large advanced and emerging economies and the European Union, and was convened by the United States to coordinate a global response to the 2008 global financial crisis.
Singapore has been invited to this year's G-20 meetings as a guest. It is also convener of the Global Governance Group (3G) - an informal coalition of 30 countries that seeks to influence the G-20 to take into account the interests of smaller countries affected by its decisions.