China backs global COVAX vaccine facility to fight COVID-19

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying speaks at a news conference in Beijing
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying speaks at a news conference in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's foreign ministry said on Friday the country has formally joined the global COVID-19 vaccine initiative known as COVAX, becoming the biggest economy to date to pledge support to help finance doses for low and middle-income countries.

A ministry statement did not give details on the level of support Beijing will provide, though President Xi Jinping in May pledged $2 billon over the next two years to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 1 million lives to date.

"We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in the statement.

The COVAX facility, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to deliver at least 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021.

The WHO had said it had been negotiating with China to enlist the country in the initiative, with Russia and the United States so far choosing not to join.

Chinese foreign ministry's Hua also said in Friday's statement that China has ample COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing capabilities and will prioritise supplying developing countries when vaccines are ready.

(Reporting by Colin Qian, Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Kenneth Maxwell)