As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic stretches into its second year, governments around the world are feeling the pressure, on both the humanitarian and the economic fronts.
New Covid-19 variants have been discovered, and although vaccine roll-out is beginning across the world, the future remains unclear. Another year of effort beckons: we cannot afford to stand still, or slow down. If we are to combat the virus and fight for a better future, we must unite, and join hands in mitigating the pandemic’s damage.
The UK is leading the charge. My government wants both to build back better in our own society, and also to support other countries in their own fight. We can only do this by working together. Whether this is through bilateral engagement, or through multilateral collective effort, the ultimate solution to this problem is, and has to be, a joint one.
The UK has so far pledged £1.3bn of aid to end the COVID-19pandemic as quickly as possible. As part of this, £548m has been allocated to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which will contribute to a total supply of 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses for 92 developing countries in 2021.
We are also one of the largest donors to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and are pledging £1.65bn over the next five years, the equivalent of £330m per year, to ensure fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine among all countries.
Here in Egypt, the UK has committed £1m through the World Health Organization (WHO) to support the Egyptian government’s response to COVID-19. This funding will help strengthen the government’s rapid response, surveillance, and infection control capacities.
However, funding is not enough. These critical times have taught us, if we needed teaching, the incomparable value of research and development, and have tested our ability to take scientific research further, faster.
So we see the University of Oxford bringing together top scientific researchers from across the world to produce a vaccine, alongside their manufacturing partner AstraZeneca, a British/Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company.
This achievement builds on previous expertise, and years of research on other vaccines.But it remains an extraordinary achievement that in a single year, a safe and effective vaccine has been developedand brought to market. Distribution has now begun, not only to our own citizens, but through Gavi, to people across the world.
We are also thinking ahead. To ensure that the international community is better prepared in the future, the UK is offering its genomics expertise to identify new variants of the virus where countries lack the resources to do so.
This year also sees the UK host the Group of 7 (G7) Summit, and ensuring that we work together to defeat COVID-19 is one of the pillars of our G7 Presidency. Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, will use the first in-person G7 summit in almost two years to ask leaders to seize the opportunity to build back better, uniting to make the future fairer, greener and more prosperous.
But, vitally important as it is, beating COVID-19 does not represent the limit of our ambition. If we are to truly build back better, we must focus on improving the daily lives of the world’s citizens: increasing prosperity through improved public services, healthcare, and education. This last point is crucial.
While some students during the pandemic have been able to learn remotely, via laptops, tablets, and other technological devices, many students have done without. A total of 1.6 billion students were reported out of education at the peak of school closures.
Missing out on education does long term damage to individuals, communities and nations. Studies show that time lost on education could result in around £12,000 of wages lost for each student over the course of their lifetime, which amounts to one-tenth of global GDP.
There is also now a real risk of a generation of girls never returning to school. Millions of future female doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers are not realising their full potential and breaking the cycle of poverty. This is a tragic waste, and an injustice that must end.
That is why girls’ education will be another central theme ofthe UK’s G7 Presidency. We will be increasing our financial and political commitments to girls’ education, channelling investment and action to where it is needed most, and championing every girl’s right to 12 years of quality education.
The UK is committed to supporting 40 million more girls to attend school in low and middle income countries by 2025. This year, the UK, Kenya, and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) will co-host a Global Education Summit to tackle these issues head-on, and urge world leaders to invest in the future, by investing in children’s futures.
Perhaps the most important area to educate current and future generations on is climate change. If we want to survive, and thrive, in a post-COVID-19 world, we need to face it.
This is also a priority for the UK, as we look forward to hosting COP26, in partnership with Italy, in Glasgow in November of this year.This will be a pivotal moment for the world to come together and agree on ambitious steps to prevent the catastrophic warming of our planet.
The UK and Egypt are leading the way on this agenda. We are both founder members of the Adaptation Action Coalition, committing countries to act now on adaptation, integrate climate risk into all decision making, and increase the availability of adaptation financing.
Working together, we have encouraged over 120 countries to sign up, along with 86 organisations, including a number of UN agencies. The UK is doubling its International Climate Finance contribution to £11.6bn over the next five years, and Egypt is inspiring the region, with the recent listing of its first sovereign green bonds, worth $750m, on the London Stock Exchange.
As we look ahead, perseverance must be our watchword. No man, or woman, is an island, and no country can stand on its own. If we are to flourish, we must do it together.
Sir Geoffrey Adams, British Ambassador to Egypt