I’d like to introduce you to Dr Granato. She’s not famous and I don’t know her personally. But I’m incredibly proud of what she’s doing and grateful for her personal contribution to the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Granato is a scientist working at the world’s best university – Oxford University in the UK. In addition to her own valuable research and the role model she sets as a female leader in science, Dr Granato bravely has volunteered to be part of one of the first credible medical trials of a Coronavirus vaccine, under the supervision of some of the most experienced doctors and scientists in the world. If proven successful and safe, Dr Granato’s contribution and the work of these incredible scientists, could help protect everyone else on the planet from the virus. Sitting in Solomon Islands, one of the few countries untouched by positive cases of Coronavirus, I feel particularly grateful for the personal risk Dr Granato takes on all our behalf.
The Coronavirus pandemic is a global fight with three battles. The first battle, countries are fighting themselves as best they can – taking measures to stop the virus spreading and preparing their medical services should the virus reach their shores. In Solomon Islands, just as in many countries around the world, neighbours and friendly nations are stepping in to help refurbishing hospital wards, donating sophisticated medical equipment and the equipment to protect those in the front line of care. The UK has invested more than £73m (SBD$761m) in research to find drugs to treat coronavirus and in more rapid, effective diagnosis tests which will, together with properly equipped medical facilities, help each country tackle the outbreak in their own way.
There is no single solution which fits every country. We are taking different measures according to our own social, ethical and religious traditions and cultures. People most used to extensive freedoms shout the loudest when those freedoms are curtailed. The world has developed a whole new vocabulary of ‘social distancing’, ‘curfew’, ‘lock-down’ and ‘isolation’. These are alien concepts in Small Island States with close-knit family ties, strong cultural and faith communities, like Solomon Islands, and are difficult to comprehend. I am optimistic that these are concepts and words that we can learn from but put to rest, once we have grasped control of the virus.
The second battle is the strategic scientific struggle to understand, control, treat and prevent Coronavirus. Only a handful of nations are fighting this battle on behalf of the rest of the global community. The UK, the US and China are the only three countries where advanced scientific programmes to develop a vaccine are entering the human trial stage. Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation began the first comprehensive pre-clinical trials of the vaccines to use an animal model at the start of April.
Researchers said the speed and level of global co-operation that led to this stage had been unprecedented. The global pandemic demands a multi-pronged approach. Different vaccines are being trialled in different laboratories around the world, fast-tracking research which would normally take years, under fierce competition, into a period of a few months, with fierce collaboration. The UK has committed £250m, (SBD$2.6bn) the largest donation of any country, to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), who will play a vital role in ensuring access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, including to the Solomon Islands.
We also committed £42.5m (SBD$443m) to two of our premier universities, Oxford and Imperial College London, to do the research. We will host a Global Vaccine Summit on 4 June 2020, virtually to bring together senior representatives from donors, implementing countries, vaccine manufacturers and international organisations. And we commit our heartfelt thanks to individuals like Dr Granato who stand up and volunteer to help us all.
The final battle may take the longest to win. This is the battle to recover our economies after the virus forced the closure of airlines, international trade, local shops and markets. From the millions of dollars lost when borders close and aircraft can’t fly, to the precious dollars lost when gardeners can no longer take their vegetables to the market. Governments and elected leaders will need answers and solutions to both ends of the economic scale. International financial institutions including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank are providing grants and loans to countries to enable them to underpin their economies. The UK, as a key shareholder in these institutions, has encouraged them to do this and provided additional resources to support this action.
We have, for instance, provided £150m (SBD$1.5bn) to the IMF to help developing countries deal with economic disruption caused by the Coronavirus. The United Nations will have an additional £130m (SBD$1.3bn) to use through their agencies, including £65m (SBD$677m) for the World Health Organisation and £20m (SBD$208m) for UNICEF, both of which are doing transformative work here in the Solomon Islands. And through our leadership as Chair of COP26, we will be redoubling our efforts to help countries grow back greener from Coronavirus and setting ambitious goals to tackle climate change; the ever-present global crisis facing the Pacific.
In the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic each country has its role to play. You’ll see neighbouring and friendly states donating protective equipment, laboratories and sending experts to help. You’ll see donor partners continuing their valuable investment in those infrastructure projects designed to bring green energy, commerce and transportation development to the Pacific Islands. Their help is vital and we stand alongside them.
If you don’t see the Union Flag as much as the flags of other friends of the Pacific, it’s not because we are absent; we’re here. From our catalytic role underpinning the solidarity and unity of the multilateral UN system, to the personal contribution of Dr Granato, the UK is working hard on behalf of our Pacific friends: We’re with you in this global fight.