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U.S. steers clear as global Covid-19 pledging conference begins

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29 2020 an engineer takes samples of monkey kidney cells as he make tests on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing

World leaders have pledged a total of $8 billion for the development and deployment of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against the novel coronavirus.

Apart from many European leaders, heads of state and governments from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey were also due to speak, along with China's EU ambassador.

A list of world leaders due to speak seen by Reuters did not include any USA officials.

The conference narrowly missed its target of 7.5bn euros - although a handful of contributors did not put a sum on their pledges - but United Nations chief Antonio Guterres warned that much more would be needed, putting the final sum required near 38 billion euros.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the race to discover the vaccine was not a competition between countries, but "the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes".

Japan has pledged about $234 million dollars towards the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

In this picture taken on April 29, 2020, an engineer takes samples of monkey kidney cells as he makes tests on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing.

COVID-19 has killed almost a quarter of a million people around the world - 140,000 of them in Europe - and Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission and the host of the videoconference, said a vaccine is the best chance of beating the disease.

In addition, there are concerns the cash pledged won't necessarily mean new funding, but could include previous aid.

While putting an upbeat gloss on the event in public, privately European Union officials were disappointed the USA did not take part. Notably absent from the event were the United States, where more than 67,000 people have died, and Russian Federation.

The US and Russian Federation did not take part.

Most experts think it could take until mid-2021, about 12-18 months after the new virus first emerged, for a vaccine to become available. French President Emmanuel Macron said a "race against time" was underway as his country donated 500 million euros.

"Those who invent it of course will be fairly paid, but access will be given to people across the globe by the organisation we choose", Macron said.

European Union officials said pharmaceutical companies who will receive the funding will not be requested to forgo their intellectual property rights on the new vaccine and treatments, but they should commit to make them available worldwide at affordable prices.

The $8b goal was in line with expectations but is only an initial figure.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, a UN-backed body focusing on health crises, estimates that of the $8b immediately needed, $3n will have to be spent to develop, manufacture and distribute a possible vaccine against Covid-19, the EU Commission said.

"More will be needed". The remaining $1.25b would go to the World Health Organization to support the most vulnerable countries.

The video-conference's aim is to gather around $4.37 billion for vaccine research, some 2 billion euros for treatments and $1.64 billion for testing.

Britain will hold another online donor summit on June 4.

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