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UN launches major humanitarian appeal to keep COVID-19 from ‘circling back around the globe’
by UN News, OCHA, agencies
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.
19 Mar. 2020
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.
16 Mar. 2020
Aid groups have warned the coronavirus pandemic is causing a squeeze on lifesaving supplies and hampering their ability to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Relief organisations said the outbreak was likely to pose an increasing challenge to their work as nations close borders and impose lockdowns.
“We’ve had some delay and cost increases of essential life-saving equipment as exports tighten from Asia especially.
“Given that our programs are predominately led, managed and staffed by national staff, and because we hold reserves and procure our goods and services locally where possible, we are hoping to minimise disruptions.
“However, we are certainly expecting that our operations will be increasingly affected.”
“We are concerned about our staff being able to deliver programmes safely and having to limit our life-saving work if things get really bad.
“But Islamic Relief works in some of the world’s most difficult climates, such as Yemen and Syria, and we are well versed in adapting our operations to protect those most in need.
“Above all, we are concerned about the ability of fragile health systems that will not be able to cope with a large influx of people and do not have adequate containment procedures. This will see aid workers and ordinary people get sick alike.”
“Travel restrictions could pose a challenge and we are seeing that already with recent announcements - things like that could present certain logistical issues in terms of movement of staff, or if we are trying to surge people with different specialisations in and out of different emergency contexts.”
“If this goes on, and depending on how supply chains and manufacturing are affected, there could be implications for essential medicines and commodities for children. It’s a concern and something we will be monitoring very closely.”
“Some of the places where we work have some form of government restrictions on movement. We anticipate other governments will take similar steps in the days to come.”
“As the spread continues, the normal daily operations that World Vision does working closely with communities, gathering children and families to support them, will not be able to continue and will significantly impact our work.”
“So far, WFP hasn’t experienced any direct impact on its supply chain. The situation is however evolving very fast and WFP recognizes the need to be prepared for further deterioration of the situation.
“The greatest challenge would be a major disruption of supply chains through border closures. WHO continues to advocate for no restrictions to travel and trade, however, countries will act based on their own risk assessments and some supply chains may be affected.”
“Undoubtedly the outbreak will have an impact on the work we undertake, but it is too early to say what the scale of that impact might be.”
“One immediate impact we are experiencing is on our ability to move staff. Not only could this be an issue in relation to responding to COVID-19, but it calls into question how effectively the sector could respond to other emergencies.
“If there were a major natural disaster in the coming months, it is possible that travel restrictions may impede any international effort.”

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COVID-19: countries must safeguard human rights as virus spreads
by World Health Organization, OHCHR
11 Mar. 2020
World Health Organization (WHO) declares coronavirus COVID-19 a pandemic
(WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus''s remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19)
In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.
There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.
In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.
WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.
Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.
We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.
And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.
WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases. And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.
As I said on Monday, just looking at the number of cases and the number of countries affected does not tell the full story.
Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those – China and the Republic of Korea - have significantly declining epidemics.
81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less.
We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.
If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.
Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus. Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.
The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will.
Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.
We are grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea to slow the virus and control their epidemics.
We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China.
All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.
WHO’s mandate is public health. But we’re working with many partners across all sectors to mitigate the social and economic consequences of this pandemic.
This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector – so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.
I have said from the beginning that countries must take a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach, built around a comprehensive strategy to prevent infections, save lives and minimize impact.
Let me summarize it in four key areas. First, prepare and be ready. Second, detect, protect and treat. Third, reduce transmission. Fourth, innovate and learn.
I remind all countries that we are calling on you to activate and scale up your emergency response mechanisms; Communicate with your people about the risks and how they can protect themselves – this is everybody’s business; Find, isolate, test and treat every case and trace every contact; Ready your hospitals; Protect and train your health workers.
And let’s all look out for each other, because we need each other.
There’s been so much attention on one word. Let me give you some other words that matter much more, and that are much more actionable. Prevention. Preparedness. Public health. Political leadership. And most of all, people.
We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.
# As of 24/3 there are over 400,000 cases in 190 countries with nearly 18,000 deaths, for ongoing updates see:
Mar. 2020
COVID-19: countries must safeguard human rights as virus spreads. (OHCHR)
As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread globally, the UN’s top human rights official has called for respect for human rights to be “front and centre” when implementing preventative measures.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has reached 100,000 worldwide, with some 3,300 deaths and more than 80 countries now affected.
Since the virus emerged in central China in December, WHO has urged countries repeatedly to adopt infection containment measures without delay, as these will give health services more time to prepare for a worst-case scenario. “This is not a drill…This is a time for pulling out all the stops,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said on Thursday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said it is essential that governments introducing measures to impede the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, undertake a range of additional actions to reduce the potentially negative impact such measures may have on people''s lives.
"As a medical doctor, I understand the need for a range of steps to combat COVID-19, and as a former head of government, I understand the often difficult balancing act when hard decisions need to be taken," Bachelet said. "However our efforts to combat this virus won''t work unless we approach it holistically, which means taking great care to protect the most vulnerable and neglected people in society, both medically and economically."
"Such people include those on low incomes, isolated rural populations, people with underlying health conditions, people with disabilities and older people living alone or in institutions," she added.
Lockdowns, quarantines and other such measures to contain and combat the spread of COVID-19 should always be carried out in strict accordance with human rights standards and in a way that is necessary and proportionate to the evaluated risk -- but even when they are, they may have serious repercussions on people''s lives, the High Commissioner said.
While authorities may judge it necessary to close schools, this may result in parents having to stay home and unable to work, a measure that is likely to disproportionately affect women.
Staying off work in order to "self-isolate" may result in lost pay or a lost job, with far-ranging consequences for people''s livelihoods and lives.
Health care for people with chronic or serious conditions may be impeded by the response to the outbreak. Disruption to trade and travel is likely to have a big impact, especially on small- and medium-sized businesses and the people they employ and serve.
"People who are already barely surviving economically may all too easily be pushed over the edge by measures being adopted to contain the virus. Governments need to be ready to respond in a range of ways to unintended consequences of their actions aimed at the coronavirus. Businesses will also need to play a role, including responding with flexibility to the impact on their employees," Bachelet said.
The High Commissioner welcomed the fact that some governments, as well as international organisations, are starting to put in place measures to mitigate the impact on people''s economic and social rights.
"Given we are all operating in uncharted territory, I encourage States to establish ways of sharing information on good practices they are currently taking to alleviate the negative socio-economic effects of COVID-19 and the efforts to halt its spread. International solidarity and co-operation are more needed than ever. It is also clear that resources need to be directed to social protection so that people are able to survive economically during what may become a protracted crisis," she said.
"COVID-19 is a test for our societies, and we are all learning and adapting as we respond to the virus. Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre in that effort, not an afterthought," Bachelet said.
To effectively combat the outbreak means ensuring everyone has access to treatment, and is not denied health care because they cannot pay for it or because of stigma.
Governments need to ensure all relevant information reaches everyone without exception, including in readily understandable formats and languages, and adapted for people with specific needs, such as children, the visually- and hearing-impaired, and those with limited or no ability to read.
"Being open and transparent is key to empowering and encouraging people to participate in measures designed to protect their own health and that of the wider population, especially when trust in the authorities has been eroded. It also helps to counter false or misleading information that can do so much harm by fuelling fear and prejudice," the High Commissioner said.
"I also urge authorities in countries affected by COVID-19 to take all necessary steps to address incidents of xenophobia or stigmatisation," she added.

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