Find $75 billion to stop the next epidemic, says the top panel to the G20

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A panel of specialists informed finance ministers of the Group of 20 affluent countries on Friday that COVID-19 is likely simply a harbinger of increasingly catastrophic pandemics in the future, and that governments will need to find $75 billion over the next five years to prepare for them.

In a report to the G20 summit in Venice, the panel said the $15 billion in annual investments it proposed would double current spending but would be “insignificant” compared to the expenses of another large epidemic of a new dangerous disease.

Former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who co-chaired the 23-member group with World Trade Organization Chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Singapore’s former finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, said, “The economic justification for these additional investments is overwhelming.”

Summers told Reuters that he was “cautiously optimistic” that the report’s recommendations would be executed, but that “we won’t be afraid to speak out” if they weren’t.

He claimed that spending tens of billions of dollars may save tens of trillions.

The panel recommended four core areas for action to close “significant gaps” in pandemic preparedness: infectious disease surveillance, national health system resilience, vaccine supply and delivery, and global governance.

The research, titled “Global deal for a pandemic age,” recommended establishing a $10 billion yearly Global Health Threats Fund, as well as $5 billion to enhance the World Health Organization and establish specific pandemic facilities at the World Bank and multilateral development banks.

In addition, low and middle-income nations would need to increase public health spending by nearly 1% of GDP over the next five years, according to the report.

“Achieving pandemic safety will necessitate a fundamental shift in thinking about international cooperation,” Shanmugaratnam added. “It is the ultimate case for national self-interest as well as international cooperation.”

Former European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet, Ana Botin, executive chairman of the Santander group, and Guntram Wolff, head of the Bruegel think-tank, are among the members of the panel, which was formed in January.

The G20, which is chaired by Italy this year, will discuss its suggestions in the run-up to a joint conference of finance and health ministers in October.

According to Reuters, finance ministers have been “generally extremely pleased” about the report, and Okonjo-Iweala is optimistic it will be implemented.

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