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UN Chief António Guterres urges China, India to lower border tensions

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 27: UN Secretary General António Guterres has urged China and India to avoid any action that would make the situation even more tense.

Responding to a question on the tensions on the border between India and China, the Secretary General's Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said "We're, obviously, looking at the situation, and we would urge all the parties involved to avoid any action that would make the situation even more tense.

To another question on US President Donald Trump's offer to mediate in this potential conflict, the spokesperson said it was not for us to opine.

"Look, that would be for the parties involved to decide who they would want to mediate this, not for us to opine," he added.

China is believed to have marshalled close to 5,000 soldiers on its side of the disputed border in Ladakh sector, where India has also sent military reinforcements to strengthen defences amid the growing tensions on the LAC.

Indian and Chinese soldiers are eyeball-to-eyeball at four locations along the LAC and several rounds of talks between local military commanders have failed to end the standoff that began with a violent confrontation between rival patrols three weeks ago near Pangong Lake.

Tensions have grown near Pangong Lake and three pockets in Galwan Valley, where Chinese troops have pitched close to 100 tents and erected temporary structures to establish a presence.

On May 10, tensions flared between India and China in north Sikkim, where 150 soldiers were involved in a tense clash a day earlier. Four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers were injured at Naku La during the confrontation.

Around 250 soldiers from the two sides also clashed near Pangong Lake on the night of May 5-6, with the scuffle leaving scores injured. While an immediate flare-up was avoided as both armies stuck to protocols to resolve the situation, tensions spread to other pockets along the LAC.

The latest standoff is not confined to a small area, and has triggered an increase in troops at multiple locations on both sides and seems to suggest a greater design rather than adventurism by local commanders.

UN Chief Guterres commends India and Bangladesh for life-saving work in face of deadly Cyclone Amphan

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 23: The UN chief António Guterres commended the governments and people of India and Bangladesh on Saturday, for their life-saving efforts ahead of devastating Cyclone Amphan, and for the effective relief effort, wishing those survivors injured and affected by the disaster, a speedy recovery.

In a statement, the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the loss of dozens of lives due to the most powerful storm to form in the Bay of Bengal, that packed powerful winds, slamming into the vulnerable coastal area along the border between the two nations, compounding the on-going COVID-19 crisis, and compromising efforts to maintain physical distancing.

Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA), said on Friday that Cyclone Amphan had impacted some 10 million people in Bangladesh, killing at least 25 there, and more than 70 in India. Half a million families may have lost their homes, he added.

The storm caused unprecedented damage across the historic India city of Kolkota, cutting off power supply to cities and towns, many of which are working to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, where there are more than 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh and 432 deaths, according to latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Bangladesh government evacuated around two million people before the storm hit, Laerke said, and more than 12,000 cyclone shelters had been set up with COVID-19 prevention equipment, including masks, sanitizers, soap and handwashing facilities.

About one million people had also been evacuated in India. According to WHO figures, there are more than 125,000 coronavirus cases there, with 3,720 deaths reported.

On Friday, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced a $132 million emergency relief package, after travelling to the region to survey the damage.

“The Secretary-General commends the governments, first responders and communities for their pre-emptive work to make people safe ahead of the storm and to meet their immediate needs afterwards”, said the statement from the UN Spokesperson’s Office. “The United Nations stands ready to support these efforts.”

The Secretary-General expressed his “solidarity with the people of India and Bangladesh as they face the impact of a devastating cyclone while also responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Elisabeth Byrs, from the World Food Programme (WFP), told journalists on Friday a team was conducting a Rapid Needs Assessment. While most crops had been harvested already, early reports suggest that there was damage to fisheries, particularly smallholder shrimp farmers.

WFP had prepositioned food stocks, including high energy biscuits for 90,000 families, in affected areas and extra food stocks could also be made available and ready for distribution, if needed.

The Rohingya camps had been largely spared from damage when Cyclone Amphan made landfall in Bangladesh and India on 20 May, however a direct hit from a cyclone had the potential to be devastating, said the agency.

The UN refugee agency’s Charlie Yaxley (UNHCR) said that in Cox’s Bazar, home to around a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, 118 shelters had been destroyed and 1,423 had been damaged, affecting just over 7,000 Rohingyas refugees in the settlement. Of that number, 555 had been moved to temporary shelters or were staying with relatives while their homes were repaired.

Clare Nullis, for WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, said the disaster mobilization for the cyclone had been “a textbook example of how it should be done. The forecast provided by the Indian Meteorological Department, which served as WMO’s regional specialized meteorological centre and provided forecast for the entire basin, “had been spot on”.

The information that it provided had been the basis for the massive evacuation and the community response, Ms. Nullis added.

India's Harsh Vardhan Takes Charge As Chairman Of WHO's Executive Board

NEW DELHI, May 22: Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan today took charge as the chairman of the 34-member World Health Organisation (WHO) Executive Board.

The Health Minister, who is at the forefront of India's battle against COVID-19, succeeded Dr Hiroki Nakatani from Japan.

"I am aware I am entering this office at a time of global crisis on account of this pandemic. At a time, when we all understand that there will be many health challenges in the next 2 decades. All these challenges demand a shared response," the Union Health Minister said after taking charge as the WHO Executive Board Chairman.

The main functions of the executive board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.

Last year, WHO's South-East Asia group had unanimously decided to elect India's nominee to the executive board for a three-year-term beginning May.

The proposal to appoint India's nominee to the executive board was signed by the 194-nation World Health Assembly on Tuesday.

The chairman's post is held by rotation for one year among regional groups and it was decided last year that India's nominee would be the Executive Board chairman for the first year starting Friday.

It is not a full-time assignment and the minister will just be required to chair the Executive Board's meetings, an official said.

The Executive Board comprises 34 individuals, technically qualified in the field of health, each one designated by a member-state elected to do so by the World Health Assembly. Member States are elected for three-year terms.

The board meets at least twice a year and the main meeting is normally in January, with a second shorter meeting in May, immediately after the Health Assembly.

India's Harsh Vardhan to be next WHO Executive Board chairman

GENEVA, May 19: Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who is leading the country’s battle against Covid-19 in the country, will be India’s nominee to be the next WHO Executive Board chairman.

A senior government official said the health minister would be elected at the World Health Organisation‘s Executive Board’s meeting on 22 May. The election is a procedural formality.

“It is not a full time assignment… But Dr Harsh Vardhan will be required to chair the executive board’s bi-annual meetings,” according to a senior government official.

The WHO’s South-East Asia group had unanimously decided last year that New Delhi would be elected to the executive board for a three-year-term beginning May. It was also decided at this meeting that New Delhi’s nominee would be the Executive Board chairman for the first year beginning Friday. The chairman’s post is held by rotation for one year among regional groups.

On Tuesday, the 194-nation World Health Assembly signed off on the proposal to appoint India’s nominee to the executive board. Former health minister JP Nadda had chaired a similar session of the WHA back in 2016.

Harsh Vardhan, an ENT surgeon by training, will replace Dr H Nakatani, who is the advisor for international affairs to Japan’s health minister.

As head of the 34-member Executive Board that is mandated to implement the decisions of the World Health Assembly, health minister Harsh Vardhan will have to work closely with Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who has lately been the punching bag for many countries led by the United States over the WHO’s initial response to Covid-19.

Harsh Vardhan, who will continue in the executive board after the one-year term as chairman ends, will also have a say in shortlisting the next WHO director general when Tedros Adhanom’s five-year-tenure ends in May 2021.

Earlier, the executive board would select the WHO director general and get its choice vetted by the health assembly. But this procedure was changed before Tedros Adhanom was appointed. The board is now required to shortlist candidates whose candidature is put before the World Health Assembly for election by a secret ballot.

UN chief recommends scaled-back UN meeting of world leaders amid pandemic

UNITED NATIONS, May 19: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is recommending that the annual gathering of world leaders in late September, which was supposed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, be dramatically scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guterres suggested in a letter to the president of the General Assembly that heads of state and government deliver prerecorded messages instead, with only one New York-based diplomat from each of the 193 U.N. member nations present in the General Assembly Hall.

Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande has said a decision on the annual gathering will be made after consultations with U.N. member states.

The meeting of world leaders usually brings thousands of government officials, diplomats and civil society representatives to New York for over a week of speeches, dinners, receptions, one-on-one meetings and hundreds of side events.

This year was expected to bring an especially large number of leaders to U.N. headquarters to celebrate the founding of the United Nations in 1945 on the ashes of World War II.

But New York has been an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with over 190,000 cases and nearly 16,000 confirmed deaths.

Guterres said in the letter that although September is some months away “the medical community anticipates that the pandemic will continue to cycle with varying degrees of severity, depending on the ability of the affected nation to implement aggressive identification, testing, tracing and containment measures.”

“It is expected, therefore, that international travel restrictions may remain in place for some destinations — meaning quarantines might affect travelers to and from New York City,” he said.

While the General Assembly could consider postponing the high-level meeting to a date in 2021, he said it would be better to hold it at the start of the new General Assembly session in September.

This will allow the U.N.’s work “to continue uninterrupted, albeit in a different format, and for world leaders to convey their views on important international issues, including on the international response to the pandemic, as well as to hear the views of other leaders,” Guterres said.

General Assembly spokeswoman Reem Abaza reiterated Tuesday that “no decision has been made yet” regarding the annual gathering.

With pressure mounting at WHO meet, China agrees for probe into Covid-19 origin

GENEVA, May 18: China on Monday gave in to mounting international pressure for a probe into the origin of Covid-19 and a review of the World Health Organisation’s response to the pandemic.

President Xi Jinping told the World Health Assembly that China had acted with ‘openness, transparency and responsibility’ when the disease, which has impacted billions of people across the world, first broke out.

President Xi, who had been invited to speak at the opening ceremony after the European Union-drafted resolution to push for a probe was supported by more than a 100 countries, said Beijing supported calls for a comprehensive review of the global response but felt this exercise should be carried out after the world gets a grip on the situation. The world’s immediate priority should be saving people.

“China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19 after it is brought under control to sum up experience and address deficiencies,” President Xi told the assembly, the UN global health body’s policy making body.

China had previously opposed calls for such investigations from Washington and Canberra.

The health assembly is expected to formally take up the resolution backed by over 120 countries tomorrow. “It is a formality now… No one is objecting to it now,” according to a diplomat.

President Xi’s argument at the assembly mirrored the one presented by World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus after a barrage of criticism, much of it emanating from the United States in the initial days.

Tedros has been blamed for backing Beijing’s narrative and showering praise on President Xi for his handling of the disease around the same time that there was growing evidence of efforts to play down the spread of the disease in January. He was seen standing with Beijing again when the United States restricted flights from China.

There is no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade”, the WHO chief said on February 3.

At Monday’s World Health Assembly, President Xi reciprocated, telling the 194-member body that the WHO’s contribution under Dr Tedros had been applauded by the international community.

“At this crucial juncture, to support WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle for saving lives as well,” President Xi said.

The draft resolution that had been pushed by Australia and the European Union had proposed an inquiry into the animal to human transmission of the Sars-CoV-2

President Xi’s comments, made during a video speech to the World Health Assembly, come as a resolution pushed by the European Union and Australia calling for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus disease picked up momentum.

By the time the truncated virtual meet started, the 54-nation Africa Group also extended support. This includes Ethiopia, home to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who made history in 2017 when he was elected WHO chief.

Tedros was not just the first African to hold the post but also the first WHO chief not to be a medical doctor. The former Ethiopian minister holds a masters in immunology of infectious diseases and a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in community health.

Tedros, who spoke minutes after President Xi, said the inquiry would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and provide recommendations for future preparedness.

“We all have lessons to learn from the pandemic. Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience. WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement,” Tedros said.

The review must encompass responsibility of “all actors in good faith,” he said.

India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said India has taken all necessary steps well in time to fight the pandemic.

"Global collaboration is paramount. Governments, industry and philanthropy must pool resources to pay for the risk, the research, manufacturing and distribution, but with the condition that the rewards should be available to everyone, regardless of where they have been developed," he said in his address to the 73rd World Health Assembly via video conferencing.

India undertook the COVID-19 challenge with the highest level of political commitment, he added. Therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines for the whole world is the only way out of this pandemic, the Health Minister said.

His address came after India on Monday joined 120 countries at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in pushing for an impartial and comprehensive evaluation of the global response into the coronavirus crisis as well as to examine the origin of the deadly infection.

India backs 62-nation coalition’s push for probe into Covid-19 origin

NEW DELHI, May 17: India has backed calls to identify how the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 was transmitted from animals to humans and conduct an ‘impartial’ evaluation of the World Health Organisation’s response to the pandemic, according to a draft resolution proposed for the WHO’s annual meet beginning tomorrow.

New Delhi’s decision to sign off on the push for an inquiry led by the European Union and Australia is the first time that India has formally articulated its stand on the Covid-19 outbreak that was detected in central China’s Wuhan city late last year. The disease has, at last count, killed over 300,000 people worldwide and devastated the global economy.

But Prime Minister Modi did indicate New Delhi’s stand at the G20 summit in March where he backed WHO reform and referred to the need for transparency and accountability.

China, which has been accused of concealing information about the virus in the early days of the outbreak, had later contested that the deadly Sars-CoV-2 pathogen detected in its territory could have originated just about anywhere. Chinese foreign ministry officials even shared conspiracy theories that accused the US military of starting the coronavirus outbreak.

World Health Organisation and its director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on the other hand, have been blamed for playing along with China till the virus reached enough countries and spread rapidly. Ghebreyesus, a former Ethopian minister, was elected with support from China in 2017. The accusations - he has denied them - also led United States President Donald Trump to suspend funding to the UN global health body.

Diplomats in Geneva, where the WHO headquarters is located, said that the draft resolution - supported by 62 countries including Bangladesh, Canada, Russia, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Japan - was an effort to bring about transparency and accountability for the spread of the disease that has been widely-acknowledged to be the worst crisis since the second world war.

To be sure, the draft resolution does not mention China or its Wuhan city.

It asks the WHO director general to work with the World Organisation for Animal Health to conduct “scientific and collaborative field missions” and “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts”.

The seven-page draft resolution also proposes to ask the WHO chief to start, “at the earliest appropriate moment”, a stepwise “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19.

This, the document says, should include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal and “the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The draft also asks countries to provide WHO “timely, accurate and sufficiently detailed public health information related to the COVID-19 pandemic as required by the international health regulations.

It is not clear if, and how the draft resolution would be discussed at the virtual meeting since the WHO leadership opted for a truncated agenda, a move that has been seen as an effort to silence its critics.

The showdown on Monday, where countries will push for the draft resolution to be taken up, is largely seen to target China which has come under scrutiny over the pandemic that has devastated the global economy.

UN chief calls to end hate speech globally

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 8: UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for concerted global action to quash the “tsunami” of hate speech that has risen alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 does not care who we are, where we live, what we believe or about any other distinction. We need every ounce of solidarity to tackle it together. Yet the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering”, he said.

Guterres listed examples of hate speech that have surfaced during the crisis, ranging from anti-foreigner sentiment, to antisemitic conspiracy theories and attacks against Muslims.

Migrants and refugees also have been “vilified” as a source of the virus and subsequently denied access to treatment, he continued, while “contemptible memes” suggest that older persons are the most expendable in the pandemic.

Meanwhile, journalists, health professionals, aid workers, human rights defenders and others have been targeted simply for doing their jobs.

“We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate”, the Secretary-General said, adding “that’s why I’m appealing today for an all-out effort to end hate speech globally”.

Guterres called on political leaders to build and reinforce social cohesion, while educational institutions were urged to focus on digital literacy at a time when billions of young people are online, where extremists are also lurking.

He said the media, and particularly social media companies, can also do more to flag and remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content.

“I call on civil society to strengthen outreach to vulnerable people, and religious actors to serve as models of mutual respect”, Guterres continued.

“And I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness”.

The United Nations has been mobilizing against what has been described as a “groundswell” of xenophobia, racism and intolerance.

Last year, the Secretary-General launched the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech to enhance these efforts, which outlines commitments that include supporting countries in policy development.

Billions raised for Covid-19 vaccine: WHO chief

GENEVA, May 4: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday praised the efforts of global leaders who had managed to raise funds worth billions of euros to boost work on the development of a coronavirus vaccine, as a “powerful show of global solidarity”.

“Billions raised for virus vaccine is a powerful show of global solidarity,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news briefing.

He was referring to the 7.4 billion euros ($8.1 billion) that had been raised as funds to help in the frantic search for a vaccine for the novel coronavirus which had spread to around 184 nations across the world. He also emphasized that nations needed to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine, once a suitable one is developed.

Political leaders of all major European countries on Monday called for cooperation and not competition in the quest for a vaccine for the coronavirus, as they pledged 7.4 billion euros at a fundraising teleconference that had been turned down by the United States.

Major European nations, along with Japan and Canada, made some of the biggest contributions. The fund raising teleconference was, however, marred by the absence of any representation from the United States. President Donald Trump has been openly critical of the global health watchdog’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In total around 40 countries, along with the United Nations and several philanthropic agencies that included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and research institutes made donations for the coronavirus vaccine.

President Trump who will contest for re-election later this year had said only a day earlier on Sunday, that the United States would have a coronavirus vaccine ready by the end of the year. Scientists and health experts across the globe, however, have warned against such optimism saying that it may take a few years for countries to develop an effective vaccine which would help tackle the contagious Covid-19 disease.

Ahead of WHO’s virtual meet, some real pressure on Tedros

GENEVA, May 4: The World Health Organisation on Monday told member states that it will soon start sending out formal invites for the truncated version of its annual meet later this month.

The World Health Assembly’s virtual meet comes at a time the global health body chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is at the centre of a huge row over its initial response to the outbreak of coronavirus disease in China’s Wuhan.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been accused by the United States of helping China play down the disease in the early stages.

Last month, Donald Trump declared that the US would hold back $ 400 million funding to the Geneva-headquartered WHO. A fortnight later, the US Director of National Intelligence issued a rare statement announcing a review of intercepted communications and other data to determine whether China, and possibly the WHO, concealed information about coronavirus.

Diplomats in Washington and Geneva suggest that the WHO meet might eventually be a staid affair because it would have a very limited agenda. It is not clear if there would be an opportunity to discuss the impact of the United States’ suspension of funding on the global health body’s projects since the meeting of the Programme, Budget and Administration committee has been indefinitely deferred.

But diplomats insist the effort to mount pressure on Tedros, who still has one more year to go, would continue to mount.

The Ethopian politician, who was the health minister between 2005 and 2012 before taking over as foreign minister for the next four years in the government then run by his party, Tigray People’s Liberation Front, has a doctoral degree in community health.

The WHO chief already has letters of support issued by the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Union leadership, a signal that he wasn’t willing to stand down.

Neither is the United States.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has continued to pile pressure on China on Sunday, insisting that there was “enormous evidence” to show that the coronavirus outbreak began in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

That renewed offensive spooked investors who saw signs of a flare-up in US-China tensions and contributed to southeast Asian stocks slipping on Monday.

To be sure, the US decision to hold back money committed to the WHO has been criticised by many countries. But it has put the focus back on the initial response by China, and by default, the chief of WHO that calls itself the “global guardian of public health”.

Some of the criticism aimed at Tedros is powered by his statements too. Like the one made two days after a closed-door meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on 28 January.

On 30 January, Tedros told the world that China is “setting a new standard for outbreak control”. A few hours after his effusive praise, the WHO declared the disease that may have originated from one wet market in China’s Wuhan a Public Health Emergency of International Concern for the world.

Three months later, the disease has killed over 245,000 people, infected 3.4 million, forced half of humanity to live under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Long before the Tedros-led World Health Organisation begins the annual meet, it has found itself in another bit of a complication, also involving China and the United States.

The self-ruled island, which Beijing considers a wayward province awaiting reunification, has been excluded from WHO membership due to objections from China. Taiwan has attended the assembly as an observer from 2009-2016 when Taipei-Beijing relations warmed, but China blocked further participation after the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who China views as a separatist. Taipei rejects that stand and insists that its exclusion creates a glaring gap in the global fight against the coronavirus.

Taiwan has reported far fewer cases of the new coronavirus than many of its neighbours, due to early and effective detection and prevention work.

The United States has already supported Taiwan’s participation at the assembly as an observer calling its exclusion an “affront” to UN principles, provoking a sharp outburst by the Chinese foreign ministry which expressed “strong outrage and firm opposition”.

UN to help 135 nations get vital COVID-19 medical kit

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, April 28: A major UN-led initiative is under way to secure supplies of key medical equipment for 135 low to medium-income countries facing down the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The COVID-19 taskforce initiative follows a direct request to WHO from UN Secretary-General António Guterres to coordinate the Organization’s response to the new coronavirus.

It comes amid unprecedented global shortages of critical supplies, skyrocketing prices and export bans, said Paul Molinaro, Chief, Operations Support and Logistics, WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

“The demand has obviously increased in those markets 100 or 200 times normal demand”, he told journalists via video conference. “On the supply side we saw a lot of shutdowns in manufacturing, we saw a lot of export controls, we saw the international air transport system on which we’re quite dependent for the movement of cargo, gradually shut down, so we’re at the point where we need to look for solutions to this.”

As part of the collective effort by the UN and public and private partners, a dedicated “COVID-19 Supply Portal” is set to launch within days, offering countries the opportunity to submit supply requests via a single platform.

This will enable the humanitarian supply chain system “to plan and coordinate allocation of critical supplies” to those 135 countries deemed to be most vulnerable, WHO said in a statement: “We need to streamline demand at country level to really look at the highest priority and to try and get the numbers to something manageable and coordinated,” Molinaro said, highlighting the first of the initiative’s four priorities.

“Step two is collaborative procurement amongst ourselves in the UN and some of our key partners in approaching the market together. This gives us a bigger voice, particularly in a constrained market with a lot of intense competition”, he added.

“The third part is allocation process based on vulnerabilities and gaps and on critical needs. And then the fourth step – in light of difficulties with transportation – is to create a unified transport system, and this is something our partners are currently doing, particularly WFP.”

After raising the alarm earlier this year about the health threat posed by the new coronavirus that emerged in central China in December, the WHO announced that it was stepping up support to countries with beleaguered public health systems.

To date, it has distributed 1.1 million tests to 129 countries, and “we have another 1.5 million on the way”, Molinaro said, noeting that the new supply chain initiative should secure a further nine million tests, which would be allocated as needed.

In addition, partner agency UNICEF (the UN Children’s Fund) has shipped supplies to 44 countries including 1.2 million surgical masks, more than 320,000 respirators, 6.4 million surgical gloves and over 250,000 gowns. UNICEF has also shipped oxygen concentrators, basic surgical equipment, stethoscopes, medication and nutrition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), along with personal protective equipment to Iran and Venezuela, and a 50-bed COVID-19 isolation and treatment unit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

According to WHO, the taskforce aims to procure 75 million face masks, 50 million respirators, 28 million surgical gloves, 10 million face shields and three million goggles for distribution. Discussions are also ongoing with the Jack Ma Foundation for 100 million surgical masks and one million respirators, WHO said in a statement.

The positive development comes amid concerns about border closures or delays which are already impacting aid deliveries, including at the border between Uganda and Kenya, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said: “We are seeing long queues of trucks waiting, because…some governments like Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are taking the temperature of the truck drivers; this slows the delivery of food in the country.”

There are also concerns that frontier delays and protective trade measures may hamper life-saving immunization work. “There’s enormous challenges and the longer we continue to face this situation, it’s clear there are going to be repercussions outside the COVID response,” said Molinaro. “We already see UNICEF vaccine shipments which are highly dependent on commercial air cargo, we do see those having been disrupted in the month of April. If this continues into May, there will be gaps in routine immunisation and also in campaigns against outbreaks of other diseases.”

Asked about distribution of supplies to Latin American countries, the WHO official replied that although there may have been some “difficulties…in the beginning” when the caseload wasn’t high, “the situation has changed and as mentioned, we’re in the process of now planning that the next acquisitions and batch volumes we get, at least in PPE, will be making their way in that direction, certainly.”

Moving forward, the COVID-19 taskforce’s strategy is to “speak up for those countries that don’t have the means to access life-saving supplies”, WHO said.

Its partners include UN agencies, The Global Fund, the World Bank, and other partners.

In a related development, the World Food Programme (WFP) issued an alert about a potentially massive spike in global food insecurity in East African nations and the Horn of Africa, as a direct result of the pandemic.

“WFP estimates that 20 million people are now food insecure in many countries in the region. Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti and Eritrea,” said WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs. “We have done projections about the situation there, about the number of food insecure people, and this number is likely to increase to 34 million up to 41 million during the next three months, due to the social-economic impact of COVID-19.”

WHO Chief Tedros warns against complacency for ‘long-stay’ Coronavirus

By Deepak Arora

Dr TedrosGENEVA, April 22: While warning the world against any complacency against the Coronavirus, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus unveiled six-point plan to fight the virus and said that Covid-19 will stalk the planet for a long time to come.

Addressing a virtual press conference here on Wednesday, Dr Tedros clarified that the UN health agency had declared a global emergency in good time on January 30 for countries to prepare and plan their response.

The body has been heavily criticised by the United States for its handling of the pandemic but Tedros brushed off calls for him to resign.

He said early evidence suggested that most of the world’s population remained susceptible. That means epidemics can easily re-ignite.

“One of the greatest dangers we face now is complacency. People in countries with stay-at-home orders are understandably frustrated with being confined to their homes for weeks on end. People understandably want to get on with their lives, because their lives and livelihoods are at stake. That’s what WHO wants too. And that’s what we are working for, all day, every day.”

But, WHO chief said “the world will not and cannot go back to the way things were. There must be a “new normal” – a world that is healthier, safer and better prepared. The same public health measures we have been advocating since the beginning of the pandemic must remain the backbone of the response in all countries.”

Unveiling the six-point plan, Dr Tedros said “Find every case; Isolate every case; Test every case; Care for every case; Trace and quarantine every contact; And educate, engage and empower your people. The fight cannot be effective without empowering people and without the full participation of our people.”

He said “Countries that don’t do these six central things, and do them consistently, will see more cases, and more lives will be lost.”
To be clear, he said WHO’s advice is to find and test every suspected case, not every person in a population. WHO is committed to supporting all countries to save lives.

Dr Tedros said the easing of movement restrictions does not mark the "the end of epidemic" for any country. "Most of the epidemics in western Europe appear to be stable or declining," he said.

"Although numbers are low, we see worrying upward trends in Africa, Central and South America, and eastern Europe."

"Most countries are still in the early stages of their epidemics. And some that were affected early in the pandemic are now starting to see resurgence in cases.

"Make no mistake: we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time."

Tedros was pressed on whether the WHO had acted swiftly enough. “Looking back, I think we declared the emergency at the right time” on January 30, he said, adding that the world “had enough time to respond”.

WHO Chief said “we are also committed to human rights, and to fighting stigma and discrimination wherever we see it. There are disturbing reports in many countries, in all regions, about discrimination related to COVID-19. Stigma and discrimination are never acceptable anywhere at anytime, and must be fought in all countries. As I have said many times, this is a time for solidarity, not stigma.”

Dr Tedros said “WHO is also working actively to address the impacts of the pandemic on mental health. Working with mental health experts around the world, WHO has produced technical guidance for individuals and health workers, recognizing the enormous strain they’re under.”

In addition, he said “we’ve also developed a free children’s book about COVID-19 with partners from UNICEF, UNHCR, IFRC and UNESCO among others. In less than two weeks, we received requests to translate the book into more than 100 languages, and the book is now being used among Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazaar, and children in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Greece and Nigeria.”

UN chief salutes India, other nations for helping others in fight against Corona virus

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, April 17: The UN Secretary General António Guterres has saluted India and other nations for helping others in the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. India, as messenger of peace, has sent medicines to over 50 countries, including the US, over the past two weeks to help them fight the Covid-19 pandemic. The cargo included 85 million anti-malarial drug Hydroxychloroquine tablets and 500 million Paracetamol tablets.

Responding to a question from Deepak Arora of TheTribuneOnline on India's efforts to send medicines and other supplies to other countries around the world, the UN chief’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said here during the noon briefing on Friday: “the Secretary General calls for global solidarity in this struggle against the virus, and that means that every country who is in a position to help another country should. And we salute those countries that are doing so.”

Hydroxychloroquine has been identified by the US Food and Drug Administration as a possible treatment for the Covid-19 and it is being tested on more than 1,500 corona virus patients in New York.
The demand for the drug has swelled rapidly in the last few days after India decided to lift a ban on its export.

US President Donald Trump had thanked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his strong leadership in helping not just India, but humanity, in this fight. “ Extradordinary times require even closer cooperation between friends. Thank you India and the Indian people for the decision on HCQ. Will not be forgotten!,” President Trump had earlier tweeted.

Stephane DujarricIn a telephonic call on April 4, President Trump had requested PM Modi to allow the sale of hydroxychloroquine tablets ordered by the US to treat the growing number of corona virus patients in his country.

In a tweet, India’s UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin informed that a consignment of hydroxichloroquine from India reached the United States on April 11. He also informed that New Delhi was working on providing Covid-19 related medical support through the India-UN Development Partnership Fund.

India also donated 200,000 tables of HCQ to Dominican Republic, the current President of the UN Security Council. In another tweet, Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin thanked US Mission in India and US Ambassador Ken Juster for helping us piggy back on Delta charter flight from Mumbai to Atlanta. Consignment later reached Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

“The #USIndia partnership is strong as we work together to help third countries combat the #COVID19 virus,” said the tweet. Thank you @USAmbIndia & @StateDept for helping us piggy back on 1 of your charter flights from India to deliver essential medicines to r distant friends. Working in partnership helps. #InThisTogether, added the tweet.

Special Envoy from Dominican Republic to UN Ambassador Jose Singer also expressed his gratitude to India. “Dear Ambassador! My country the Dominican Republic is so grateful for this help in challenging times!!!” Singer said in response to a tweet by India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin on India’s donating the medicines to the Caribbean nation.

Russia President Vladimir Putin also spoke with Modi and thanked him. He also welcomed India's decision to ship medicines to combat corona.
Foreign Minister of Spain Ms Arancha Gonzalez Laya has thanked India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar for authorizing the export of ingredients and pharmaceuticals.

Germany also received 1.5 metric tonnes of hydroxychloroquine (active pharmaceutical ingredient) in the first consignment from India.
Brazil President Haur N Viksibari also thanked Indian Prime Minister for allowing shipment to Brazil with ingredients for production of hydroxychloroquine.

The countries that have received medicines to fight Covid 19 include Bahrain, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Myanmar, Zambia, Uganada, Burkina, Niger, Mali, Congo, Egypt, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Jamaica, Marshall Islands, Syria, Ukraine, Eswatini, Chad, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, France, Jordan, Kenya, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Phillippines, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Tanzania, UAE, Uzbekistan, Uruguay, Colombia, Ageria, Bahmas, Bolivia, Guyana, the UK and the USA.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also thanked Modi for allowing the import of medical supplies from India to South Africa.

It may be mentioned that India had sent a Rapid Response Team to Kuwait with medical team and equipment.

Now is ‘not the time’ to reduce funding for WHO, urges Guterres

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, April 14: Now is a time for unity in the global battle to push the COVID-19 pandemic into reverse, not a time to cut the resources of the World Health Organization (WHO), which is spearheading and coordinating the global body’s efforts, said UN chief António Guterres, on Tuesday.

“As I said on 8 April, the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our lifetime. It is above all a human crisis with severe health and socio-economic consequences”, he added.

The UN chief’s statement, came as the President of the United States, Donald Trump, announced early on Tuesday evening that he was halting funding for the UN health agency, pending a review of its response to the initial outbreak.

WHO, with thousands of its staff aiding and assisting operations across the world to limit the transmission of the coronavirus, “is on the front lines, supporting Member States and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services”, said the Secretary-General.

“It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.”

Reiterating the argument which he made last week, the UN chief noted that given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19 and the subsequent global response that was needed to defeat it, “it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities. Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis.”

The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future”, Guterres added. “But now is not that time.”

Until then, “it also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”

Guterres made it clear that unity must prevail, so that the international community can work together, “in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.”

Ever since the disease emerged in Wuhan, China, and the first case of a pneumonia “of unknown cause” was reported to WHO on 31 December last year, the agency has been working 24/7 to analyze data, provide advice, coordinate with partners, and help countries prepare. The outbreak was declared a Public Heath Emergency of International Concern, a month later.

UN Chief António Guterres warns COVID-19 threatening global peace and security

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, April 10: While the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, its implications are more far-reaching and could threaten global peace and security, the UN Secretary-General told members of the Security Council in a closed video-conference held on Thursday.

António Guterres said heightened solidarity is needed if the world is to defeat the crisis, which he called the "gravest test since the founding of this Organization", with Governments already struggling to address rising unemployment and economic downturn.

"But the pandemic also poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security -- potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease", he warned, later stating that the Council’s engagement will be critical to mitigate these implications.

"Indeed, a signal of unity and resolve from the Council would count for a lot at this anxious time", he said.

The UN chief outlined eight ways COVID-19 could undermine global peace and security, beginning with a further erosion of trust in public institutions if people perceive that their authorities had mishandled response or were not transparent.

The pandemic’s economic impacts could create "major stressors" in fragile societies or less developed countries, for example, while the ensuing economic instability will have devastating consequences for women as they make up the majority in the worst-affected sectors.

Stressing that "this is not a time for political opportunism", the Secretary-General also feared electoral processes could be affected as postponing or proceeding with votes could spark political tensions and undermine legitimacy.

"In some conflict settings, the uncertainty created by the pandemic may create incentives for some actors to promote further division and turmoil. This could lead to an escalation of violence and possibly devastating miscalculations, which could further entrench ongoing wars and complicate efforts to fight the pandemic", said Guterres.

With most Governments focused on the pandemic, terrorist groups could see "a window of opportunity to strike", with the situation in the Sahel a particular concern.
 
"The weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold – and may increase its risks. Non-state groups could gain access to virulent strains that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe."

COVID-19 has also hindered conflict resolution efforts, and many peace processes have stalled as countries respond. The pandemic also has triggered or worsened numerous human rights challenges.  
 
"We are seeing stigma, hate speech, and white supremacists and other extremists seeking to exploit the situation", the UN chief said.

"We are witnessing discrimination in accessing health services.Refugees and internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable. And there are growing manifestations of authoritarianism, including limits on the media, civic space and freedom of expression".

The UN chief reminded Ambassadors of his recent appeal for an immediate global ceasefire during the pandemic.

Some warring parties have taken steps to lay down their arms, and UN representatives will continue their efforts on this front.

Following the meeting, Security Council members issued a statement expressing support for the Secretary-General's efforts concerning the potential impact of the pandemic to conflict-affected countries, and the need for unity and solidarity with all those affected.

WHO ‘absolutely critical’ to neutralizing coronavirus threat: UN chief

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, April 8: The World Health Organization (WHO) must be supported across the world, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday, describing the UN health agency, which has led the multilateral response since the beginning, as “absolutely critical” in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our lifetime”, the UN chief said in a statement. “It is above all a human crisis with severe health and socio-economic consequences.

Guterres pointed out that thousands of WHO staff were in the field, fighting the virus on the front lines, supporting Member States and serving the most vulnerable among them with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving assistance.

“I witnessed first-hand the courage and determination of WHO staff when I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year, where WHO staff are working in precarious conditions and very dangerous remote locations as they fight the deadly Ebola virus”, he asserted.

Noting that no new cases of Ebola have been registered in months, the UN chief called it “a remarkable success for WHO”.

“This virus is unprecedented in our lifetime and requires an unprecedented response”, Mr. Guterres spelled out.

Maintaining that it is possible that the same facts have been interpreted in different ways, by different entities, he assured that that once the world finally turns the page on the epidemic, “there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis”.

“The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future”, he continued.

But now is not that time, added the UN chief: “Now is the time for unity, for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.”

Trump puts China, WHO on line for UNSC meet on Coronavirus

NEW YORK, April 7: After US President Donald Trump virtually blamed the World Health Organisation for playing the Chinese side on the coronavirus pandemic, heat will now mount on Beijing at an informal discussion on the virus outbreak in the UN Security Council on Thursday, April 9, at 3 pm (EST). The informal discussion will be preceded by a briefing by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately, I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation,” Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday. It is not what prompted the outburst but as one Indian analyst put it, Trump had hit the nail on its head.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was elected to the post after China backed him in the May 2017 election as he defeated US-backed Dr David Nabarro, who was the candidate of the UK. Despite the coronavirus being detected in Wuhan in China as early as November 17, 2019, the WHO categorised Covid 19 outbreak as a pandemic on 12 March 2020 when it had crossed the borders and created havoc in Europe. By then, the virus had already killed 1,000 people in the european region.

All the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council have backed the informal discussion led by the UNSC President; the post is held by the Dominican Republic. But whether the closed-door discussion will conclude with any outcome depends on the proposals put up and the exercise of veto powers of China and its ally Russia.

If President Trump’s tweet is indicative of the US mind, then the vote will be 13 to 2 or 14 to 1 depending on how Russia plays. Other two members of the P5, the UK and France have suffered at the hands of pandemic and so has Europe.

While China may say that the pandemic is not a peace and security issue - the argument used to block a request by Estonia for a discussion last month - the economic misery that the pandemic has hurled the world towards a deep crisis.

UNSC to discuss Covid-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI, April 5: Three days after China demitted Presidency of the UN Security Council, 10 non-permanent members led by Dominican Republic have forced the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to agree to a closed-door informal consultation on the Covid-19 pandemic this week.

This comes after an attempt by Estonia to have the UNSC discuss the pandemic with more transparency and accountability was blocked by China, Russia and South Africa who argued that the coronavirus spread was not a peace and security issue and hence outside the UNSC’s mandate.

According to diplomatic sources in Washington and Delhi, the demand for informal consultation on the pandemic, made as it impacts the peace and security of the world, was pushed by UNSC President Dominican Republic on Friday. It was backed by Vietnam, Indonesia, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Niger and Tunisia.

It is understood that UN Secretary General Guterres will first address the UNSC through video conference and then announce the date for informal consultations this week. Guterres is expected to brief the member countries on the status of the pandemic and measures taken to control the killer disease.

There is, however, a huge question on the possible outcome of the discussions on the disease that originated in China’s Wuhan city before it rapidly spread across the world. China is expected to be supported by Russia. The United States, on the other hand, is yet to take a stand. But the Trump administration has of late adopted a softer stand on China, particularly after Beijing supplied 1,000 ventilators for New York.

France and the United Kingdom are likely to be in favour of an outcome at the informal consultations.

As per John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen has infected 1.2 million people across the world and killed 66,542.

The US has reported the maximum number of cases with over 3,12,000 Covid-19 patients and over 8,500 deaths.

Experts believe that the virus will destroy a lot more lives than it will take. Governments across the world have ordered lockdowns to slow the pandemic and minimise the lives that it takes, forcing the global economy into a recession that may take years to get over.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants a global ceasefire to be announced so that member countries can focus on the fight against the virus and the global misery that will follow. But this may not be accepted by Russia which has stakes in the Syrian civil war and the Libyan strife.

To be sure, little is expected of the informal consultations on Covid-19 at UNSC. But permanent member China, which is riled up at any description of the disease as Wuhan virus, will have to allow itself to be targeted by other UNSC members.

UNSC members also surely expected to raise questions on the role of World Health Organisation that failed to recognise the disease as a pandemic earlier and Beijing’s initial denials when the outbreak took place as early as November 17, 2019.

UN chief urges unity in mobilizing ‘every ounce of energy’ to defeat coronavirus pandemic

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, April 3: There should be only one fight in our world today, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday, issuing a loud clarion call to join “our shared battle against COVID-19”.

Ten days ago, António Guterres called for an immediate global ceasefire to help people in war-torn regions receive life-saving aid to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know the pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, including relating to international peace and security”, the UN chief said, in a virtual press conference outlining the impact so far of the ceasefire appeal.

He cited sustained restrictions on movement by governments everywhere, and factors that could contribute to rising discontent and political tensions, but maintained that “the global ceasefire appeal is resonating across the world”.

He said that the call has been endorsed by 70 Member States, regional partners, non-State actors, and others.

“Religious leaders – including Pope Francis – have added their moral voice in support of a global ceasefire, as have citizens through grassroots mobilization online”, he told reporters.

Although a substantial number of fighters and militias have accepted the call, the UN chief stressed that “there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds – between translating words into peace on the ground, and in the lives of people”.

He acknowledged the “enormous difficulties” in implementing a truce to halt conflicts that have festered for years, where “distrust is deep”, and recognized that “any initial gains are fragile and easily reversible”.

The UN chief observed that in many critical situations, there has been no let-up in fighting, and in some, conflicts have even intensified.

“We need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges”, he asserted. “To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace”.

Guterres explained that he and his envoys are engaging with conflict actors to help push forward ceasefires.

As the UN Special Envoy in Yemen works to convene the parties to discuss COVID-19 crisis management and nationwide ceasefire mechanisms, the conflict has spiked – despite expressed support for a truce by the Government and warring parties.

“I call on all governments and movements involved and their supporters to put an end to the catastrophic conflict and humanitarian nightmare – and come to the negotiating table”, implored the UN chief.

In Syria, where the first COVID-related deaths have now been reported, the UN Special Envoy has appealed for a “complete and immediate” nationwide ceasefire to allow for “an all-out-effort against COVID-19”.

Turning to Libya, although the warring parties have welcomed calls to stop the fighting, clashes have escalated drastically on all frontlines, obstructing efforts to effectively respond to COVID-19.

“I urge both parties, and all others directly and indirectly involved in the conflict, to immediately halt hostilities to allow authorities to effectively address the COVID-19 threat”, underscored Guterres.

In Afghanistan, a 21-member team was announced last week to directly negotiate with the Taliban, and technical contacts established for an initial prisoner release.

Pledging his full support, the Secretary-General stated his belief that “the time has come for the Government and the Taliban to cease hostilities as COVID-19 looms over the country”.

For all nations in conflict, the UN chief made a special appeal to those with influence on warring parties “to do everything possible for the ceasefire to become a reality”.

He called on “all those that can make a difference, to make that difference”, by urging and pressuring combatants around the world to lay down their arms.

Noting that there is a chance for peace, Guterres maintained, “but we are far from there”.

“The need is urgent”, he said. “The COVID-19 storm is now coming to all these theatres of conflict”.

Against the backdrop of a coronavirus moving swiftly across borders, devastating countries and upending lives, Guterres projected that, “the worst is yet to come”.

“We need to do everything possible to find the peace and unity our world so desperately needs to battle COVID-19”, concluded the Secretary-General. “We must mobilize every ounce of energy to defeat it”.

 

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