BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah has joined other Asia-Pacific leaders in calling for the acceleration of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines as the region grapples with a surge in infections fuelled by the fast-spreading Delta variant.

During a virtual APEC meeting hosted by New Zealand on Friday night, the sultan said APEC should continue international efforts in securing equitable and affordable access to vaccines as a global public good.

He said economy recovery depends on expediting the delivery of COVID-19 jabs to the public, adding that APEC’s 21 member economies can jointly produce vaccines and toolkits for the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking at Istana Nurul Iman, the monarch said APEC economies should review their economic development approach to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.

“Efforts such as empowering people, enhancing micro, small and medium enterprises’ productivity, building sustainable infrastructure and leveraging on innovative technologies are key elements in helping APEC economies adapt to the new normal,” he added.

His Majesty said APEC needs to rebuild confidence in the multilateral trade system and better support economies.

For the first time in APEC’s history, the leaders attended an additional meeting ahead of their formal gathering in November to discuss collective actions in dealing with the pandemic and its economic impact.

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the leaders vowed to redouble efforts to increase vaccine production and supply, as well as support global vaccine sharing efforts.

“We will only overcome this health emergency by accelerating equitable access to safe, effective, quality-assured, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines,” the leaders said in the statement.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who convened the meeting as this year’s APEC chair, said the leaders’ discussions moved beyond vaccine nationalism.

“Now we are focusing on all aspects of contributing to the global vaccination effort — making vaccines, sharing vaccines and using vaccines,” the APEC chair said in a statement.

“We are also pushing for collaborative and practical solutions on safely reconnecting with the world by continuing to explore options including vaccine passports, travel green lanes and quarantine-free travel bubbles,” she added.

The COVID-19 Delta strain — first detected in India earlier this year — has been raging around the world, including Indonesia which is now considered Asia’s new COVID-19 epicentre.

Indonesia reported record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases over the past five days, surpassing 40,000 infections compared to about 10,000 a month ago.

There have been over 50 million coronavirus cases within APEC’s borders, with over one million deaths.