Over 200 MPs and peers have written to the Prime Minister urging him to do more to protect the world’s poorest during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cross-party signatories of the letter, including Tory MP and former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, are calling on the Government to step up global aid as coronavirus spreads to developing nations with chronically weak healthcare.
Whilst the Government has rightly prioritised the response at home, the most powerful must also be prepared to look after the most vulnerable countries to prevent a worldwide humanitarian and economic crisis, they argue.
Co-ordinator of the letter, Labour MP and former shadow international development minister Rushanara Ali, said that “low and middle income countries are on their knees crying out for help” and that it is in the UK’s economic interest to help them.
“We would like the Government to take a much stronger role in the G20 as time is running out,” Ms Ali told the PA news agency.
The letter warns that the spread of Covid-19 in vulnerable countries could be “rapid and devastating” and that “much more must be done to support those most at risk”.
Ms Ali said Prime Minister Boris Johnson must urgently commit financial and political backing to the UN’s two billion US dollar Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19.
The MPs and peers behind the letter also call on the Government to support calls for all bilateral and multilateral donors to agree to an immediate moratorium on debt payments for poor country governments without conditions.
Other requests include the scaling up of water and sanitation provision and the distribution of hygiene materials in developing countries, ensuring the UK’s response is conflict-sensitive and supporting the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire.
They add that ministers must champion and fund a locally-led humanitarian response and work with international partners to urgently increase the financial fire power of The World Bank and International Monetary Fund to help low and middle-income countries.
Amongst the 210 signatories are former Labour leader Ed Miliband, Green MP Caroline Lucas and the SNP’s Joanna Cherry.
“It is literally a matter of life and death in those countries, there’s no welfare state to support them,” Ms Ali told PA.
She added: “We need to make sure these countries’ economies do not collapse.
“If those economies collapse, not only is it a humanitarian crisis, but it is an economic crisis for the world as they are emerging markets.
“We’re not going to solve this crisis being isolationist.”
Ms Ali said: “Everyone understands the need to protect our own populations and to support the Government’s efforts to tackle Covid-19.
“We all appreciate the heroic efforts of our NHS and other key workers across the UK.
“However, the nature of this virus is that it crosses national borders, infects anyone regardless of status, and what happens in Bangladesh, Burundi or Brazil will affect us here in Europe.
“The UK Government must tackle the conditions, for example over-crowded refugee camps, which allow the virus to spread.
“This is not just a matter of humanitarianism, it is also a matter of self-interest.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The UK has already pledged £544 million to fight the coronavirus pandemic and save lives around the world, including by providing the largest single contribution by any country to international research to find a vaccine.
“We are strengthening fragile health systems in the poorest countries to cope with the outbreak, encouraging people worldwide to wash their hands regularly and helping developing countries deal with the economic disruption caused by the pandemic, making it easier for us all to bounce back.
“By tackling the virus in vulnerable countries, we will reduce the risk of future waves of infection spreading around the world, including to the UK.”
Picture: Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a morning Covid-19 update meeting remotely during his self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, in London on 28th March 2020. (Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street/Handout via Xinhua).