The work of the G20 summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia for the first time in the Arab world, kicked off today, Saturday, in a virtual mini-meeting overshadowed by efforts to combat the emerging Corona virus and the stifling global economic crisis it caused.

The summit of the world's richest countries, whose meetings will continue over two days, will take place in light of US President Donald Trump's refusal to acknowledge his defeat in the presidential elections, and amid criticism of what activists consider an insufficient response by the group to the worst economic recession in decades.

World leaders are meeting at a time when global efforts are intensifying to complete and distribute vaccines against the emerging corona virus on a large scale, following recent successful trials, and in light of successive calls for the G20 countries to fill the deficit in a special fund to finance these efforts.

The summit’s work will be miniature and brief compared to what it was in the past, as it was usually an opportunity for bilateral dialogues between world leaders, this time being limited to online sessions within what observers call “digital diplomacy”.

Part of the virtual G20 summit (Reuters)

Helping developing countries

For his part, Saudi King Salman said in his opening speech to the G20 leaders' meeting that they should work to create conditions that allow fair and affordable access to vaccines to provide them to all peoples, along with other tools to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

When opening the meeting of leaders of the world's twenty largest economies, he said, "We are encouraged by the progress made in finding vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tools for the Coronavirus, but we must work to create conditions that allow fair and affordable access to them to provide them to all peoples."

Organizers say that the G20 countries have pumped $ 11 trillion to "protect" the global economy, and have contributed more than $ 21 billion to combat the emerging Corona epidemic.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expects global economic output to contract by 4.5 percent this year.

But G20 leaders are facing mounting pressure to help developing countries not default on their debts.

Last week, the group’s finance ministers announced a "common framework" for a plan to restructure the debts of countries swept by the virus, but activists and officials described the measure as insufficient.

In a message to the G20 leaders, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called this week for "bolder measures", stressing "the need for more work to reduce debt."