Boris Johnson tells world leaders: Reach across borders to fight coronavirus

Boris Johnson has criticised the lack of joined-up thinking from countries around the world in fighting coronavirus, as he called on leaders to come together.

The Prime Minister said the notion of the international community looked “tattered” following the crisis, and warned that “everyone will lose” unless countries work in conjunction to defeat the virus.

In a pre-recorded speech played at the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, Mr Johnson said the pandemic had been an “extraordinary force for division”.

He added: “We have been up against the same enemy, the same tiny opponent threatening everyone in much the same way. But members of the UN have still waged 193 separate campaigns, as if every country somehow contains a different species of human being.

“Across the world there has been an infinite variety of curfews and restrictions and closures, and we have fought in a spirit of sauve qui peut [every man for himself].”

The Prime Minister instead urged: “We know that we simply can’t continue in this way. Unless we get our act together, unless we unite and turn our fire against our common foe, we know that everyone will lose.

“The inevitable outcome would be to prolong this calamity and increase the risk of another.

“Now is the time therefore – here at what I devoutly hope will be the first and last ever zoom UNGA – for humanity to reach across borders and repair these ugly rifts.

“Let’s heal the world – literally and metaphorically. And let’s begin with the truth because as someone once said, the truth shall set you free.”

Mr Johnson said alarm bells were ringing “long before this calamity struck”, with eight outbreaks of a lethal virus in the last 20 years.

“Humanity was caught napping and we’ve been scrabbling to catch up, and with agonising slowness we are making progress,” he said.

He pledged to use the UK’s G7 presidency next year to build a new “global approach” to health security, with a five-point plan to protect humanity against another pandemic.

Mr Johnson committed £500 million in aid funding for the Covax vaccines procurement pool to help poor countries access a coronavirus jab, and announced a plan – developed with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The Wellcome Trust – to help stop future pandemics.

The proposals include developing a global network of “zoonotic hubs” to identify dangerous pathogens before they jump from animals to humans, as well as improving manufacturing capacity for treatments and vaccines.

Other measures include designing a global pandemic early warning system, improving the ability to collect and analyse samples and distribute the findings, and agreeing common protocols on information sharing to PPE supplies around the world.

Mr Johnson also proposed that states reduce trade barriers on Covid-critical products, such as soap, to help the global response.

Dr Gail Carson, deputy chair of the Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network, said it was “heartening to see the UK Government back the World Health Organisation with increased funding and support the global Covid-19 vaccine sharing scheme COVAX to ensure fair distribution of vaccines”.

She said: “We need to live the global solidarity that is desperately called for by many. The pandemic has shown us that countries must work together for preparedness to outbreaks, during response and planning for recovery.

“Going forward, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a UN initiative signed by the countries back in 2015, could help provide a roadmap to recovery and a better future for all. The SDGs cover many of the issues we face as a World, which require collective action.”