World News

Italy wants heads of state to attend May G20 health summit -sources

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will stage a health summit in Rome next May during its presidency of the Group of 20 major economies and hopes world leaders, including U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, will attend, diplomatic sources said.

FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addresses members of the lower house of parliament during a session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation, in Rome, Italy November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

If heads of state accept the invitation, it would be the first such in-person meeting for global chiefs since 2019, after the coronavirus reduced the main G20 and Group of Seven summits this year to virtual gatherings.

Italy took over the annual G20 presidency at the start of the month and all scheduled events until at least mid-April are expected to be held via video-link. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hopes face-to-face encounters can resume from May.

The global health summit is scheduled for May 21 in Rome and would discuss the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to vaccinations and international cooperation.

“The idea is to have a Rome declaration to confront the health emergency,” a diplomatic source said.

Biden is due to be sworn into office on Jan. 20. Former U.S. officials last month urged the president-elect to push for a G20 summit in early 2021 to renew U.S. commitment to diplomacy and tackle the health and economic impact of COVID-19.

An Italian political source said Conte’s office had had informal contacts with Biden, but added that it was too soon to say whether he would come to Rome in May.

The event is being co-sponsored by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Rome is confident that EU leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, will attend, coronavirus permitting.

Italy has scheduled a meeting for G20 foreign ministers in the southern city of Matera on June 28-30 and a gathering of G20 economy ministers in Venice on July 9-10. The traditional closing summit for world leaders is set for Rome on Oct. 30-31.

The Italian presidency will focus on three broad themes - the planet, people and prosperity.

“Italy wants to give impetus to economic growth but with the firm intention that its benefits are actually better shared, without leaving anyone behind,” Pietro Benassi, Conte’s chief diplomatic advisor, told a conference last month.

Amongst the goals Italy hoped to achieve were securing further debt relief for African states, he said.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kirsten Donovan