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Solidarity, Hope, Coordinated global response needed to tackle COVID-19 pandemic: UN chief

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19: As public fear and uncertainty grow around the COVID-19 pandemic, “more than ever before, we need solidarity, hope and the political will to see this crisis through together,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday in his first virtual press conference.

Unlike any global health crisis in the 75-year history of the United Nations, the coronavirus pandemic is “spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives”, he added.

Calling for global solidarity, Guterres said: “Our human family is stressed, and the social fabric is being torn. People are suffering, sick and scared”.

And as country-level responses cannot single-handedly address the global scale and complexity of the crisis, he maintained that “coordinated, decisive and innovative policy action” is needed from the world’s leading economies.

Guterres said that he looks forward to participating in the G20 leaders’ emergency summit next week to respond to the pandemic’s “epic challenge”.

“My central message is clear”, he spelled out: “We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply”.

Indicating that “we are at war with a virus”, the UN chief stressed that creative responses “must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale”.

And although COVID-19 is killing people and attacking economies, by managing the crisis well, “we can steer the recovery toward a more sustainable and inclusive path”, he said.

“I call on world leaders to come together and offer an urgent and coordinated response to this global crisis,” he said.

The UN chief said that tackling the health emergency was his number one concern and advocated for scaled-up health spending to cover, among other things and “without stigma”, testing, supporting health care workers and ensuring adequate supplies.

“It has been proven that the virus can be contained. It must be contained”, he said, advising to move from a country-by-country strategy to a “coordinated global response, including helping countries that are less prepared to tackle the crisis”.

“Global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests”, he stated and urged Governments to fully meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) appeals, saying, “we are only as strong as the weakest health system”.

As the second crisis priority, Guterres pointed to social impact and the economic response and recovery.

He cited a new International Labour Organization (ILO) report projecting that workers could lose some $3.4 trillion in income by year’s end.

But the world is not experiencing an ordinary shock in supply and demand, “it is a shock to society as a whole”, he said.

“Most fundamentally, we need to focus on people – the most vulnerable, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises” explained the UN chief. “That means wage support, insurance, social protection, preventing bankruptcies and job loss”.

He elaborated that “the recovery must not come on the backs of the poorest – and we cannot create a legion of new poor” and pushed for supporting informal economy workers and countries less able to respond.

Appealing for a global financial commitment, he noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other international financial institutions would play a key role.

Guterres encouraged dismantling trade barriers and re-establishing supply chains.

He also spoke of the pandemic’s impact on women, saying that they are “disproportionally carrying the burden at home and in the wider economy” and on children, noting that more than 800 million are currently not in class, “many of whom rely on school to provide their only meal”.

“As people’s lives are disrupted, isolated and upturned, we must prevent this pandemic from turning into a crisis of mental health”, the Secretary-General continued, indicating the need to maintain support programmes for the most vulnerable, underlining that “humanitarian needs must not be sacrificed”.

Against this backdrop, Guterres final point was that we have a responsibility to “recover better”.

“We must ensure that lessons are learned and that this crisis provides a watershed moment for health emergency preparedness and for investment in critical 21st century public services and the effective delivery of global public goods”, he said.

Pointing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, he concluded: “We must keep our promises for people and planet”.

UNSC won’t discuss Covid-19; China blocks it with help from Russia, South Africa

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27: China, Russia and South Africa nixed Estonian efforts to initiate a discussion in the UN Security Council over the spread of Covid-19 with loss of lives threatening the peace and security of the world. China, from where the virus originated, is the President of the UNSC till March 31, after which Dominican Republic takes over.

According to diplomatic sources, while Russia and South Africa said that there was no direct link between the spread of virus and threat to peace and security of the world, China shot down the proposal saying that there was no consensus within the UNSC, a mandatory requirement to take up any proposal. Russia and South Africa are close trade partners of China with the latter being the stepping-stone to Beijing’s access into Africa.

While the Estonian proposal talked about transparency over the Covid-19 outbreak, there were hardly any takers for the proposal in the UNSC with all the permanent members being seriously afflicted by the rampaging virus.

“It is quite evident that none of the P-5 want to come up with a solution that is binding on them such as opening up the borders,” said a diplomat.

It is not that the UN Security Council, which focuses on threats of peace and security, hasn’t discussed the impact of diseases. The UN Security Council has spoken about Ebola and its impact on more than one occasion since 2014. People familiar with the development said this had been possible because the United States had worded its proposal to underline that deaths due to the virus were exacerbating the conflict in west Africa, particularly Sierra Leone, and thus presenting a threat to global peace and security.

“The fact is that no one wants to touch the UN as was evident in the G-20 meeting on Covid-19 on Thursday. While India wanted the century-old institution WHO (World Health Organisation) to be reformed, the rest wanted to strengthen the very institution that was shy in calling out China over the spread of virus. It is a cosy club, the UN, which does not accept any new members,” said a retired UN diplomat.

It is being suggested that the real reason why almost every major country - Donald Trump has been an exception in this - is shy of calling out China is because Beijing has built excess medical capacities in the form of ventilators, HAZMAT suits, masks and other equipment required for treatment in the past three months.

“All the countries are quiet over China as they may have to import the same equipment from them in case of a worst case scenario. Simply put, China first created the demand and now will supply it,” said a China watcher.

WHO chief announces global ‘solidarity trial’ to jumpstart search for COVID-19 treatment

GENEVA, Mar 18: Just 60 days after the genetic sequence of COVID-19 was shared by China, the first vaccine trial has begun, the UN health chief said on Wednesday, calling it “an incredible achievement” and urging the world to maintain “the same spirit of solidarity” that has helped fight Ebola.

Updating journalists at the regular press briefing in Geneva, UN World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that more than 200,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported and over 8,000 deaths.

He explained that because multiple small trials of the coronavirus vaccine with different methodologies may not provide the evidence needed, WHO and partners are organizing a study to compare untested treatments throughout several countries.

“This large, international study is designed to generate the robust data we need to show which treatments are the most effective”, said the WHO chief. “We have called this study the SOLIDARITY trial”.

And to date, Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand have confirmed that their participation.

“To suppress and control epidemics, countries must isolate, test, treat and trace”, he said, otherwise “transmission chains can continue at a low level, then resurge once physical distancing measures are lifted”.

One week since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, cases continue to soar, roughly half the world’s student population is not attending school, parents are working remotely when possible, borders have been closed and lives have been upended.

“These are uncharted waters for all of us”, said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund. “At UNICEF, we are fighting a new virus, debunking myths and battling misinformation, all while looking after the well-being of our staff and our own families”.

UNICEF is helping to prevent the spread of the virus among communities in the affected countries by sharing accurate information on how to keep families safe and mitigating the impact of the outbreak on children’s access to health, education and social services.

“Now more than ever, we count on our donors to continue supporting our mission for those with nothing and no one – despite these difficult times”, Ms. Fore said.

As the world embarks on the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Mona Juul, President of the Economic and Social Council, stressed: “We must always ensure that the health and safety of people is our first priority”.

And in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to postpone the UN75 Youth Plenary and ECOSOC Youth Forum and proposed cancelling all ECOSOC meetings over the next eight weeks.

“Given the rapidly evolving situation, it is clear that we need to remain flexible”, she said, noting that ECOSOC is exploring virtual options and solutions.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s spokesperson announced that he would conduct the daily press briefings remotely as the UN Security and Safety Service in Vienna reported today that 95 per cent of staff there were telecommuting.

At the same time, as Governments worldwide are relying on people to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-10, a UN expert shined a light on those without a home, saying that they must be ensured access to adequate housing.

“Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation”, said Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, adding that it has become “the front line defense against the coronavirus”.

She explained that some 1.8 billion people globally live in homelessness and grossly inadequate housing, often in overcrowded conditions, lacking access to water and sanitation – making them particularly vulnerable.

The expert urged States to “take extraordinary measures” to secure the right to housing for all to protect against the pandemic.

A few countries have already stepped up, including by putting moratoriums on evictions or deferring mortgage payments for those affected by the virus while others have increased access to sanitation and emergency shelter spaces for the homeless.

“By ensuring access to secure housing with adequate sanitation, States will not only protect the lives of those who are homeless or living in informal settlements but will help protect the entire world’s population by flattening the curve of CV19,” the UN expert concluded.

Swift policy action, strong leadership can save millions of jobs: ILO

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18: As dire forecasts about the global economy add to the anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN’s labour agency (ILO) on Thursday offered a range of urgent measures, which, if governments act quickly, can help to protect workers in the workplace, stimulate the economy and save millions of jobs.

Noting that the economic and labour crisis created by the pandemic could greatly increase worldwide unemployment, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that an internationally-coordinated policy response – as happened in the 2008 financial crisis – could significantly lower the impact on global unemployment.

“This is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people”, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted. We need that kind of leadership and resolve now”.

ILO’s new report, COVID-19 and the world of work: Impacts and responses, calls for urgent, large-scale measures across three pillars: protecting workers in the workplace; stimulating the economy and employment; and supporting jobs and incomes – each to include measures to extend social protections and support employment retention and financial and tax relief.

“In times of crisis like the current one, we have two key tools that can help mitigate the damage and restore public confidence”, said the ILO chief.

He called the first, for social dialogue and to engage with workers, employers and their representatives, “vital for building public trust and support for the measures that we need to overcome this crisis”.

According to Ryder, the second tool, for international labour standards, provides a “tried-and-trusted foundation” for policy responses that focus on a recovery that is sustainable and equitable.

To protect workers in the workplace, ILO advocated for teleworking and staggered hours; greater paid sick leave; occupational support – such as hotlines and dedicated websites; and to stem any and all discrimination and exclusion – including stigmatization.

Other protective measures include childcare support for working parents when schools and nurseries are closed.

Active fiscal and monetary policies, such as cutting interest rates, can stimulate the economy and accelerate employment, in line with the second pillar.

Tax breaks and waivers for social security contributions, as well as extending deadlines for mortgage payments and financially supporting specific sectors, including the health, can also help mitigate coronavirus-related economic impacts.

ILO stated that work reduction, compensation arrangements and social assistance would help to support employment and incomes.

The UN agency pointed out that several countries are introducing financial support and tax relief, including for small merchants and that affected companies could also benefit from postponing social or tax installments, or even tax rebates in the most extreme or difficult situations.

While these measures will help to contain the pandemic, to respond to the emergency needs it has generated and to pave the way to a gradual recovery, ILO acknowledged that more needs to be done.

Looking back at past crises and the experiences of the countries that have reacted too late to the current COVID-19 crisis, ILO underscored the urgency of preparedness and early action.

“Everything needs to be done to minimize the damage to people at this difficult time”, concluded Ryder.

 

 

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