Social distancing, international-style: White House cancels G-7 summit

Social distancing, international-style: White House cancels G-7 summit

The leaders of the G-7 countries can put away the outdoorsy pieces in their professional wardrobes. The White House canceled the meeting that was to be held at Camp David. The summit was scheduled for June.

It’s a reasonable move, what with most countries closing their borders and ratcheting up their actions to fight off the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In this day and age, why not use teleconferencing instead of face to face meetings? That is exactly what will happen.

“In order for each country to focus all of its resources on responding to the health and economic challenges of COVID-19 and at President Trump’s direction,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement, “National Economic Council Director and U.S. Sherpa for the 2020 G7 Larry Kudlow has informed his Sherpa colleagues that the G7 Leaders’ Summit the U.S. was set to host in June at Camp David will now be done by video-teleconference.”

This international coalition has already met via teleconference, hosted by President Trump, as it turns out. This week Trump spoke with the leaders, the first time the group has ever met virtually. Necessity is the mother of invention and this decision is the latest way the administration utilized thinking outside the box. In order to continue close coordination among the group of countries, they were told that Trump will convene them all together again in April and in May. Just like everything else in life now, the coronavirus has taken over, even international summits.

The G-7 countries are the United States, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. All find themselves faced with curtailing the spread of the virus and keeping its citizens safe. Teleconferencing is already being used. On Friday Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Secretary of State Pompeo spoke via telephone after the United States advised Americans to avoid all international travel and strongly suggested those who are currently abroad to return immediately. The number of global cases continues to increase, with Italy the hardest hit. The epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted from China, where it originated, to Europe.

“To prevent the spread of the infection, it is necessary to implement appropriate border controls for a certain period of time, and it is important that Japan and the United States as well as related countries cooperate and share information on the issue,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

The two also agreed to share lessons learned through steps taken to contain the outbreak and to explore the possibility of jointly developing a vaccine or treatment to fight the pneumonia-causing virus.

As the foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations are slated to hold a videoconference instead of an in-person meeting in the United States next week, Motegi and Pompeo agreed that there should be substantial discussion on the coronavirus issue and other challenges the world faces.

The wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tested positive for the illness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded the alarm earlier this month that up to 70% of Germans could be infected. All the drama over whether or not Trump National Doral resort in Miami should be used isn’t important anymore. Now the American taxpayers are off the hook for the use of Camp David, too. Trump is working with the other world leaders as they all work to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

Mr. Trump spoke on Thursday with President Emmanuel Macron of France, according to Mr. Deere, who said the “two leaders agreed to continue close cooperation on resolving the pandemic and minimizing its economic impact, in coordination with the G7 and other international partners.”

The G-7 leaders issued a joint statement affirming their commitment to coordinating public health measures and restoring consumer confidence.

“We, the leaders of the Group of 7, acknowledge that the Covid-19 pandemic is a human tragedy and a global health crisis, which also poses major risks for the world economy,” the group said in a joint statement issued afterward, referring to the illness caused by the virus. “We are committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure a strong global response through closer cooperation and enhanced coordination of our efforts.”

HHS Secretary Azar hosted a call with his G-7 counterparts Thursday on COVID-19 response.

On Thursday, March 19, Secretary Azar hosted the latest in a series of teleconferences with counterparts from the G7 core countries. The senior officials continued their sharing of information on measures being taken to combat COVID-19, as cases increase in every G7 country. They discussed some of the similar measures that are being taken, including social distancing, travel restrictions, plans for maintaining the availability of necessary medical supplies, optimizing testing procedures, and work on possible vaccines and treatments. The senior officials expressed their hope that these measures and the sharing of outcomes will help slow the spread of the disease, while new capabilities and tools become available to help manage the disease across all countries.

It can also be noted that the G20 summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, will be held online next week at the suggestion of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The summit wasn’t scheduled for another eight months but the coronavirus pandemic is setting that summit’s agenda, too.

The announcement about the G20 summit comes at a time of further measures being taken by Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region in recent weeks. The Saudis, for example, have closed schools and universities; congregational prayers are no longer being held in mosques; and private sector employees have been ordered to take 15 days off in order to self-quarantine. International travel around the world has also been banned.

So far, there have allegedly been no deaths in the Kingdom attributed to the virus, but there are currently 171 confirmed cases of people who are infected. Around the world, there are close to 200,000 cases of infection. The figure is increasing at an alarming rate, with many warning that the crisis will continue beyond mid-2020 at the very least.

Just as with China and Iran, information coming out of Saudi Arabia should be taken with a nod to historical realism that the countries have been less than forthcoming with other countries in the past when it comes to internal information. If China had stepped up and diligently responded in the early part of the pandemic, all of this might well have been avoided. Its lack of transparency with the outside world and inaction, at least in the initial onset of the outbreak, is responsible for the spread of COVID-19 now being tackled across the globe.

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