World News – GB – Singapore takes the lead in forming multinational group to develop COVID-19 vaccine


A group of Singapore government agents have led a multinational effort to develop and distribute a Covid-19 vaccine next year in all REUTERS countries via The Straits Times / Asia News Network

SINGAPORE – When Covid-19 began its march across the world earlier this year, international diplomacy practically came to a halt Meetings were called off and diplomats were grounded as borders were slammed

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It was a challenge, said Ambassador Umej Bhatia, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations Office at Geneva, where several United Nations organizations are headquartered, including the World Health Organization. (WHO)

« We couldn’t stand in the trenches and say, ‘Oh, we can’t work because we don’t feel safe' »

With modern communications technology and working remotely from their office, he and his staff in the Swiss city were part of a group of Singapore government agents who led a multinational effort to develop and distribute a vaccine Covid-19 next year to all countries, rich and poor, large and small

The need for such multilateralism in vaccines was emphasized by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the World Vaccine Summit and the Global Goal Summit: Unite for Our Future, both organized virtually in June

Vaccine nationalism was on the rise then as governments around the world scrambled to gain exclusive access to Covid-19 vaccines before anyone else

Moreover, multilateralism is not a luxury, said Mr. Bhatia, but an « existential necessity » for small states that depend on global health security to ensure the safety of trade and people

The Friends of the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax), or FOF, training involved officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Economic Development Board (EDB) )

« With major countries blocking vaccines for their own use, we have worked against the clock and around the clock to advance vaccine multilateralism, » the 50-year-old diplomat said

In a few weeks, the informal group had 15 members brought together by Singapore: Australia, Canada, European Union, Iceland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, States United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom

Last Friday, the 15 submitted legally binding engagement agreements to participate in Covax

FOF’s mission is to discuss and co-create the design of Covax, in particular the financing, governance and allocation of vaccines

Under the leadership of Singapore, he has worked closely with Gavi, Cepi and WHO on these issues Gavi is a public-private vaccine alliance, while Cepi (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) is a global partnership for vaccines

has since been adopted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and senior WHO officials, to push back the forces of vaccine nationalism

Recognizing the complexity of multilateralism, Mr. Bhatia explained that his advantage is that the 193 nations of the UN must follow a rules-based order.This means that countries can expect a more predictable outcome, which especially benefits small states, he said. he declares

« Multilateralism expands the range of options for small states like Singapore – not just on vaccines, but on other issues affecting global commons that may come upon us, such as climate change. »

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Access to other Covid-19 treatments and diagnostic test kits is also important, and that’s where the Covid-19 Access to Tools (ACT) Accelerator Facilitation Board comes in. ‘WHO

In June, Singapore, as organizer and chair of the Small States Forum – an informal group of 108 countries with less than 10 million people – was invited to the council

« The number is strong, so this set a precedent for dealing with urgent issues (like Covid-19) Size is not fate, » M added Bhatia, pointing out that Singapore tries to play a constructive role despite its small size « We were able to speak and represent the interests of the smaller states, whose views could be ignored or pushed aside by the larger »

One of the most esoteric bodies to which Singapore belongs is the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (Copuos)

His interests in Copuos are more related to civil and government functions supported by outer space, such as city planning, weather monitoring and telecommunications

Singapore’s nascent space industry employs more than 1,000 people in 30 companies, in activities such as packaging data from satellite imagery for the construction, maritime safety and shipping industries. agriculture

Copuos deals with the standards governing these activities and is the forum to coordinate and harmonize them at the global level

« When we do it, it is practical, there is a key function and it corresponds to what we have to achieve in terms of the national interest »

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In the 90s, M Umej Bhatia hosted a local TV news show called Talking Point

He saw how Singapore was impacting the international stage, with seasoned diplomats like Mr. Tommy Koh playing a central role in negotiations on the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which is now universally accepted as modern law from the sea

Inspired also by former permanent secretaries Kishore Mahbubani and Bilahari Kausikan, he changed careers and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1996

« They were really making a dent on a global level and that intrigued me, » said Mr. Bhatia, now 50, at the Straits Times in the MFA building at Sherwood Road in Tanglin

Today, he oversees the Singapore offices to the UN in Geneva and Vienna, notably as a permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency

He has also been on the Middle East Tour and in 2001 his family was evacuated from their apartment during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, where he was part of a team that represented Singapore at his first and only term as an unelected member of the UN Security Council

But what was most memorable for him was the period leading up to the 2003 war in Iraq, when he was handling the Iraq file for Singapore He and a group of junior diplomats drafted United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, giving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime one last chance to comply with its disarmament obligations

« I have personally experienced the great issues of world war and peace in the deliberations of the Council, » he said of the tense closed-door debates in the crowded Council consultation room.

« It was an invaluable lesson in real power politics – how diplomacy worked and didn’t work »

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Vaccine, Singapore, World Health Organization

Global news – UK – Singapore takes the lead in forming multinational consortium to develop COVID-19 vaccine



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