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Coordinated global response needed to tackle COVID-19 pandemic
by António Guterres
UN Secretary-General
31 Mar. 2020
Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19
We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and upending people’s lives. But this is much more than a health crisis. It is a human crisis.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is attacking societies at their core. The IMF has just reassessed the prospect for growth for 2020 and 2021, declaring that we have entered a recession – as bad as or worse than in 2009. The IMF projects recovery in 2021 only if the world succeeds in containing the virus and take the necessary economic measures.
In the face of such an unprecedented situation in recent history, the creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale.
No country will be able to exit this crisis alone.
This report is a call to action, for the immediate health response required to suppress transmission of the virus to end the pandemic; and to tackle the many social and economic dimensions of this crisis.
It is, above all, a call to focus on people – women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and on vulnerable groups who are already at risk.
Whole societies must come together. Every country must step up with public, private and civic sectors collaborating from the outset. But on their own, national-level actions will not match the global scale and complexity of the crisis.
This moment demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies, and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries, who will be the hardest hit.
Given the world’s extensive economic and social interrelationships and trade— we are only as strong as the weakest health system.
The first step is to mount the most robust and cooperative health response the world has ever seen. Health system spending must be scaled up right away to meet urgent needs and the surge in demand for tests, expanded treatment facilities, adequate medical supplies and more health care workers; and for health system preparedness and response in countries where the virus has not yet manifested or where there is no community transmission to date.
The strongest support must be provided to the multilateral effort to suppress transmission and stop the pandemic, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), whose appeals must be fully met. Scientific collaboration in the search for a vaccine and effective therapeutics must be promoted through initiatives such as the WHO-sponsored solidarity trials.
Universal access to vaccines and treatment must be assured, with full respect for human rights, gender equality and without stigma.
The second step is to do everything possible to cushion the knock-on effects on millions of people’s lives, their livelihoods and the real economy.
That means the direct provision of resources to support workers and households, provision of health and unemployment insurance, scale-up of social protection, and support to businesses to prevent bankruptcies and massive job losses. That also means designing fiscal and monetary responses to ensure that the burden does not fall on those countries who can least bear it.
A large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 per cent of global GDP is needed now more than ever. This crisis is truly global. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that developing countries have the best chance of managing this crisis, or COVID-19 will risk becoming a long-lasting brake on economic recovery.
The third step is to learn from this crisis and build back better. Had we been further advanced in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we could better face this challenge - with stronger health systems, fewer people living in extreme poverty, less gender inequality, a healthier natural environment, and more resilient societies.
We must seize the opportunity of this crisis to strengthen our commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. By making progress on our global roadmap for a more inclusive and sustainable future, we can better respond to future crises.
The recommendations in this report are geared to empower governments and propel partners to act urgently.
The United Nations family – and our global network of regional, sub-regional and country offices working for peace, human rights, sustainable development and humanitarian action, will support all governments, working with our partners, to ensure first and foremost that lives are saved, livelihoods are restored, and that the global economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis.
That is the logic of the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs. More than ever before, we need solidarity, hope and the political will and cooperation to see this crisis through together.
19 Mar. 2020
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, Mr. 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.
Mr. 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”.
Mr. 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”.
“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.
Mr. 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”.
“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”.
UN aid teams work to ensure humanitarian support to millions
UN assistance remains critical for over 100 hundred million people living in emergency situations, and life-saving food aid is essential for 87 million people across the world.
“To stop COVID-19 anywhere, it must be stopped everywhere”, Jens Laerke, Spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adding that if the worldwide transmission is not broken, “the virus could cycle back” to countries that thought they were safe.
Maintaining the global humanitarian response is “an act of global solidarity”, he pointed out that “it is also an act of enlightened self-interest”.
Shining on a light on the 100 million people living in war zones and other emergency settings who depend on UN humanitarian assistance, he stressed the imperativeness of keeping lifelines open to those in need “while taking action to avoid the catastrophic impact COVID-19 could have on them”.
“Many live in cramped conditions and with limited or no access to proper sanitation or basic health services”, he said. “As the virus reaches these places, the consequences could be devastating”.
Highlighting that OCHA is working to raise awareness on how to protect from the virus and ensure the safety of staff and people they serve, Mr. Laerke stressed that “humanitarian aid should be allowed to flow freely”.
He underlined the need to continue supporting the most vulnerable, including through UN-coordinated humanitarian and refugee response plans.
OCHA is working on a global humanitarian response plan to launch next week.
The World Food Programme (WFP), the world''s largest humanitarian agency tackling and food insecurity, has a critical role in maintaining food assistance for 87 million people, while supporting the global humanitarian response to the coronavirus pandemic.
With COVID-19 barring over 860 million students from schools and leaving 300 million primary school children without school meals, the agency is working to ensure that they and their families continue to receive food and nutritional support during the pandemic.
WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs told journalists, that its school-feeding programmes “spans 61 countries globally and serves as a critical social safety net for poor and vulnerable households”.
In countries where schools are still open, she said “the priority is to ensure that hygiene, behaviour and food safety standards are followed and that social distancing measures are addressed to mitigate the risk of increased infections”.
“WFP is working with partners to improve access to water and sanitation”, she added, noting that in countries where schools are closed, the UN agency is exploring other options, such as take-home rations, food delivery and cash or vouchers.

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Developing Nations need help dealing with Coronavirus Pandemic
by Reuters, Inter Press Service
Mar. 2020 (Extract)
Governments in wealthy, first world countries must not ignore the plight of poorer nations battling the coronavirus or the disease will not be brought under control, global development experts have said.
As African nations slowly report growing numbers of cases, and more and more infections are registered in countries with endemic poverty, there are growing fears that some states could soon see major outbreaks they will not be able to cope with.
A potential overburdening of already vulnerable healthcare systems would not only have a drastic impact on population health, but could also push people further into poverty and deprivation, World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have told IPS.
But if developing countries are overwhelmed by the virus, there is a threat that the disease would rage on in developing countries, even if it is brought under control in developed states, and inevitably spread back into places like North America and Europe.
To avoid such a scenario, wealthy states must keep a focus on helping other countries with weak healthcare systems, despite the fact they are fighting their own battle with the disease, say experts.
“High income countries are completely consumed with what is happening in their own states, but it would be good if they could give at least some focus to poorer countries,” Amanda Glassman, executive vice president of the Global Centre for Development told IPS.
“If things are not brought under control in less developed countries, it could come back to hurt developed countries later on,” she added.
There have so far been more than 169,387 COVID-19 infections and 6,513 deaths, according to today’s figures (15/3).
The past week saw an unprecedented shutdown of Europe and the United States, with widespread school, restaurant, cinema and museum closures. Several countries across Europe have closed their borders, with Germany being the latest to shutdown all non-essential travel.
While the vast majority of cases have been in China, where the virus was first detected, with Italy being the country with the second-highest most cases, followed by Iran, South Korea and Spain. Europe is now the epicentre of the pandemic.
Significant infections have been recorded in the United States and some other Asian countries, and the Philippines capital of Manila has been sealed off.
But while there have been far fewer registered cases of the disease in places like Africa and South America, many health experts believe that those numbers could very quickly rise dramatically.
Healthcare systems in many poor countries, especially in Africa, are already severely stretched with limited financing and resources. Access to hospitals, and especially intensive care units, are generally much lower than in developed nations – studies have estimated that less than half of Africa’s population has access to modern health facilities.
Some countries also face extra burdens such as battling other endemic diseases, recent natural catastrophes, or coping with large-scale refugee influxes.
For example, Sub-Saharan Africa has been struggling with the Ebola virus and the locust invasion and associated famines. In many countries, resources are stretched thin.
Any major COVID-19 outbreak could affect incidence, and treatment of, other diseases in some African states, Dr Ambrose Talisuna, Programme Manager for Emergency Preparedness, at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, told IPS.
“We fear that the healthcare systems in some African countries could be completely paralysed. “We saw this with Ebola [outbreaks in some African countries]. There was a diversion of resources to the disease and the healthcare system couldn’t deal with the shock of the outbreak. People died of malaria, people couldn’t get treatment for tuberculosis,” he said.
Even countries with relatively developed healthcare systems could face similar problems. South Africa has the world’s worst HIV/AIDS epidemic and it is not known how a major coronavirus outbreak may affect treatment for those with HIV/AIDS or outcomes if they are infected with COVID-19.
“We don’t know what might happen with issues relating to COVID-19 infections and other conditions, such as HIV/AIDS,” said Glassman.
In Latin America, where some two thirds of people live in poverty, doctors have already warned of the strain widespread coronavirus infections could put on hospitals and health workers.
Writing in the the Folha de São Paulo newspaper last week, Drauzio Varella said: “…. depending on the speed with which the epidemic spreads, the stress on our health system could be brutal.”
There would also be serious economic problems. Not only would significant financial resources have to go into healthcare rapidly, but measures implemented to contain the virus’s spread, such as travel restrictions, business closures, quarantines, would very soon affect people’s incomes.
“As we saw with Ebola, there can be a massive effect on the local economy and people’s income. If people cannot travel because of restrictions and cannot do ‘street trade’, which is what some rely on to survive, then they will have nothing,” said Talisuna.
Many countries, including some of the poorest in the world in Asia, Latin America and Africa, have begun introducing strict measures to try and halt the spread of the disease. These have included closing borders and mandatory quarantine.
While the WHO has supported the use of such measures, they have been shown to have had an enormous economic toll with sectors such as travel, transportation, tourism and retail, among others, all seriously affected.
Such costs cannot, and should not, be borne by developing nations alone, development experts say.
Earlier this month, the World Bank made $12 billion available in immediate support to help countries coping with the health and economic impacts of the global outbreak. The International Monetary Fund has said $10 billion could be mobilised in loans to low-income countries tackling the virus. On Mar. 13 WHO and its partners launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund which aims to raise funds from private and corporate individuals to contribute to global response efforts.
Meanwhile, other money is being redirected from existing funding: for example the Global Fund for HIV, TB and malaria is to allow some funds to be used for the virus response while the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund global emergency response fund has made $15 million available. Much more could be done Glassman said. “Multilateral investment banks need to boost their current lending”.
A month ago the World Health Organization launched a $675 million preparedness plan hoping to contain the crisis and pave the way to deter future crises. That’s less than 1 percent of the U.S. 2020 military budget. In late February, the European Commission earmarked $124 million for the WHO response plan, but other actors to date have not prvided adequate funding.
Individual countries have pledged contributions to global efforts to fight the disease, either directly to other states and health groups, through multilateral organisations, or to the WHO.
No matter how it is funded, experts agree that developing countries must be given whatever help is needed to contain the disease.
If cases escape detection in poor countries, then it is more likely than not that weak healthcare systems, coupled with endemic poverty and social instability could result in a secondary epidemic with potential global impact.
If advanced economies hope to contain the global crisis, they can’t afford to ignore developing economies.
25 Mar. 2020
A global approach is the only way to fight COVID-19, the UN says as it launches humanitarian response plan
To confront the unprecedented worldwide challenge posed by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations has launched a humanitarian appeal to assist in mitigating its worst impacts.
At a joint press briefing, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, launched a $2 billion coordinated global humanitarian response plan, to fight COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries in a bid to protect the millions most at risk.
Having gained a foothold in 195 countries with more than 400,000 reported cases and close to 20,000 reported deaths, COVID-19 is reaching more and more areas of the world grappling with conflict, natural disasters and climate change.
The UN chief stressed that a global approach is the only way to fight the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity – and so the whole of humanity must fight back”, he said, underscoring that “individual country responses are not going to be enough”.
Assisting the vulnerable – the millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves – is not only “a matter of basic human solidarity” but also crucial for combating the virus, according to Mr. Guterres.
The interagency plan if properly funded, will save many lives and assist humanitarian agencies with laboratory supplies for testing and medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health care workers.
Mr. Guterres said that if funding aimed to stem the impact of COVID-19 in vulnerable humanitarian contexts is diverted, “the consequences could be catastrophic”.
The UN humanitarian chief warned that failing to help vulnerable countries fight the coronavirus now could place millions at risk.
Pointing out that COVID-19 has already upended life in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that it is now reaching people living in warzones, with no soap and clean water and or hospital beds should they fall critically ill.
“If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe”, he spelled out.
He acknowledged that countries battling the pandemic at home, but added “the hard truth” that if they do not act now to help the poorest countries protect themselves, they would be failing to protect their own people.
“Our priority is to help these countries prepare and continue helping the millions who rely on humanitarian assistance from the UN to survive”, he said.
“Properly funded, our global response effort will help equip humanitarian organizations with the tools to fight the virus, save lives, and help contain the spread of COVID-19 worldwide”.
As the pandemic continues to accelerate, the WHO chief said that “most worrying” of all, was the danger the virus poses to people already affected by crisis.
“The virus is now spreading in countries with weak health systems, including some which are already facing humanitarian crises”, said Mr. Ghebreyesus.
“People and communities that are already uprooted due to conflict, displacement, the climate crisis or other natural and man-made disasters are the ones we must urgently prioritize”, he underscored.
“Heed this warning now, back this plan politically and financially today and we can save many more lives and slow the spread of this pandemic”.
“History will judge us on how we responded to the poorest communities in their darkest hour”, he concluded, “Let’s act together, right now!”
The head of UNICEF said that children are “the hidden victims of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Lockdowns and school closures are affecting their education, mental health and access to basic health services. “For children the consequences will be unlike any we have ever seen”, she warned. “We must not let them down.”
She said that with support from the international community, among other things, we can “shore up preparedness and response plans in countries with weaker healthcare systems” and provide short and long-term assistance on the health, well-being, development and prospects of children.
23 Mar. 2020
U.N. to create global coronavirus fund, Norway says. (Reuters)
The United Nations will create a fund to prevent the spread of coronavirus and support the treatment of patients worldwide, Norway said on Monday.
The purpose of the fund is to assist developing countries with weak health systems in addressing the crisis as well as to tackle the long-term consequences. The United Nations could make a formal announcement this week, the ministry said.
Norway, which suggested the fund, has not committed how much money it would put into the initiative, similar to a 2014 United Nations Ebola Response Fund.
“We want to make sure that the efforts are as unified as possible and as early as possible so that we can answer up to the demands that countries will have, especially the poorest countries,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Reuters.
Almost 340,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and more than 14,500 have died, with deaths in Italy surpassing the toll in China, where the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally.
In Africa, Angola, Eritrea and Uganda have confirmed their first cases, while Mauritius recorded its first death as the virus spreads across the continent despite efforts by governments to hold it back.
In the Middle East, the first two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the densely populated Gaza Strip on Sunday.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called on wealthy countries to not just think about their citizens but help less-prepared nations tackle the crisis.
“A wealthy country must not be convinced that it has only to deal with its own citizens. It’s in the interests of a wealthy country to contribute to a global response because the crisis can come from wherever, at any moment,” he told reporters.
25. Mar. 2020
Joint Statement from the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund regarding a Call to Action on the Debt of IDA Countries
The World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund have issued the following joint statement to the G20 concerning debt relief for the poorest countries:
The coronavirus outbreak is likely to have severe economic and social consequences for IDA countries, home to a quarter of the world’s population and two-thirds of the world’s population living in extreme poverty.
With immediate effect—and consistent with national laws of the creditor countries—the World Bank Group (WBG) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) call on all official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from IDA countries that request forbearance.
This will help with IDA countries’ immediate liquidity needs to tackle challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak and allow time for an assessment of the crisis impact and financing needs for each country.
We invite G20 leaders to task the WBG and the IMF to make these assessments, including identifying the countries with unsustainable debt situations, and to prepare a proposal for comprehensive action by official bilateral creditors to address both the financing and debt relief needs of IDA countries. We will seek endorsement for the proposal at the Development Committee during the Spring Meetings (April 16/17).
The World Bank Group and the IMF believe it is imperative at this moment to provide a global sense of relief for developing countries as well as a strong signal to financial markets. The international community would welcome G20 support for this Call to Action.
* International Development Association (IDA) countries are those with low per capita incomes.
* Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University:

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