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UN Secretary-General’s Video Message on World Health Day, 7 April 2020

The text of the video message is provided as follows:

World Health Day this year comes at a very difficult time for all of us.

My message today is to our health care workers — the nurses, midwives, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, doctors, drivers, cleaners, administrators and many others — who work, day and night to keep us safe.

Today, we are more deeply grateful than ever to all of you, as you work, round the clock, putting yourselves at risk, to fight the ravages of this pandemic.

We have all had reason to give thanks for the care and professionalism of nurses and midwives. I know I do.

Nurses shoulder some of the biggest healthcare burdens.  They perform difficult work and endure long hours, while risking injury, infection and the mental health burden that accompanies such traumatic work.  They often provide comfort at the end of life.

Midwives provide comfort at the beginning of life. During a pandemic, their work is even more challenging, as you bring our newborn safely into this world.

To the nurses and midwives of the world: thank you for your work.

In these traumatic times, I say to all healthcare workers: we stand with you and we count on you.

You make us proud; you inspire us. We are indebted to you.

Thank you for the difference you are making, every day and everywhere. [Ends]

All hands on deck to fight a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic

by Antonio Guterres, 3 April 2020

Only by coming together will the world be able to face down the COVID-19 pandemic and its shattering consequences. At an emergency virtual meeting last Thursday, G20 leaders took steps in the right direction.  But we are still far away from having a coordinated, articulated global response that meets the unprecedented magnitude of what we are facing.

Far from flattening the curve of infection, we are still well behind it.  The disease initially took 67 days to infect 100,000 people; soon, 100,000 people and more will be infected daily.  Without concerted and courageous action, the number of new cases will almost certainly escalate into the millions, pushing health systems to the breaking point, economies into a nosedive and people into despair, with the poorest hit hardest.

We must prepare for the worst and do everything to avoid it.  Here is a three-point call to action — based on science, solidarity and smart policies — for doing just that.

First, suppress transmission of the coronavirus.

That requires aggressive and early testing and contact tracing, complemented by quarantines, treatment, and measures to keep first responders safe, combined with measures to restrict movement and contact.  Such steps, despite the disruptions they cause, must be sustained until therapies and a vaccine emerge.

Crucially, this robust and cooperative effort should be guided by the World Health Organization, a member of the United Nations family; countries acting on their own – as they must for their people – will not get the job done for all.

Second, tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis.

The virus is spreading like wildfire, and is likely to move swiftly into the Global South, where health systems face constraints, people are more vulnerable, and millions live in densely populated slums or crowded settlements for refugees and internally displaced persons.  Fuelled by such conditions, the virus could devastate the developing world and then re-emerge where it was previously suppressed.  In our interconnected world, we are only as strong as the weakest health systems.

Clearly, we must fight the virus for all of humanity, with a focus on people, especially the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups.

The United Nations has just issued reports documenting how the viral contagion has become an economic contagion, and setting out the financing needed to address the shocks.  The International Monetary Fund has declared that we have entered a recession as bad as or worse than in 2009.

We need a comprehensive multilateral response amounting to a double-digit percentage of global Gross Domestic Product.

Developed countries can do it by themselves, and some are indeed doing it.  But we must massively increase the resources available to the developing world by expanding the capacity of the IMF, namely through the issuance of special drawing rights, and of the other international financial institutions so that they can rapidly inject resources into the countries that need them.  I know this is difficult as nations find themselves increasing domestic spending by record amounts.  But that spending will be in vain if we don’t control the virus.

Coordinated swaps among central banks can also bring liquidity to emerging economies.  Debt alleviation must also be a priority – including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020.

Third, recover better.

We simply cannot return to where we were before COVID-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis.  The pandemic has reminded us, in the starkest way possible, of the price we pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protections and public services.  It has underscored and exacerbated inequalities, above all gender inequity, laying bare the way in which the formal economy has been sustained on the back of invisible and unpaid care labour.  It has highlighted ongoing human rights challenges, including stigma and violence against women.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and other global challenges.  The recovery must lead to a different economy.  Our roadmap remains the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.

The United Nations system is fully mobilized: supporting country responses, placing our supply chains at the world’s disposal, and advocating for a global cease-fire.

Ending the pandemic everywhere is both a moral imperative and a matter of enlightened self-interest.  At this unusual moment, we cannot resort to the usual tools.  Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures.  We face a colossal test which demands decisive, coordinated and innovative action from all, for all.

António Guterres is Secretary-General of the United Nations





New York, 31 March 2020

[as delivered]

The world is facing an unprecedented test.  And this is the moment of truth.

Hundreds of thousands of people are falling seriously ill from COVID-19, and the disease is spreading exponentially in many places,

Societies are in turmoil and economies are in a nose-dive.

The International Monetary Fund has reassessed the prospect for growth for 2020 and 2021, declaring that we have entered a recession – as bad as or worse than in 2009.

We must respond decisively, innovatively and together to suppress the spread of the virus and address the socio-economic devastation that COVID-19 is causing in all regions.

The magnitude of the response must match the scale of the crisis — large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive, with country and international responses being guided by the World Health Organization.

And it must be multilateral, with countries showing solidarity to the most vulnerable communities and nations.

The message of the report we are issuing today is clear: shared responsibility and global solidarity in response to the impacts of COVID-19.

It is a call to action.

First, for an immediate coordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic.

A response that scales up health capacity for testing, tracing, quarantine and treatment, while keeping first responders safe, combined with measures to restrict movement and contact.

A response that delivers universal access to treatment and vaccines, when they are ready.

It is essential that developed countries immediately assist those less developed to bolster their health systems and their response capacity to stop transmission.

Otherwise we face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the global South with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed.

Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.

I am particularly concerned with the African continent, and I strongly encourage the G20 to move ahead with a G20 Africa initiative as proposed at the Summit.

Second, we must tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of this crisis, with a focus on the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups, especially those in humanitarian and conflict settings.

We must see countries not only united to beat the virus but also to tackle its profound consequences.

That means designing fiscal and monetary policies able to support the direct provision of resources to support workers and households, the provision of health and unemployment insurance, scaled up social protection, and support to businesses to prevent bankruptcies and massive job losses.

What is needed is a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 per cent of global GDP.

Developed countries can do it by themselves, and some are indeed doing so.

But we must massively increase the resources available to the developing world by expanding the capacity of the International Monetary Fund, namely through the issuance of special drawing rights, and the other international financial institutions to rapidly inject resources into the countries that need them.

Coordinated swaps among central banks can also bring liquidity to emerging economies.

Debt alleviation must be a priority – including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020.

The United Nations system is fully mobilized, providing guidance for global efforts, supporting country responses and placing our supply chains at the world’s disposal.

And to support our efforts, the United Nations is establishing a new multi-partner Trust Fund for COVID19 Response and Recovery to support low- and middle-income countries to respond to the emergency and recover from the socio-economic shock.

UN Resident Coordinators worldwide will be the drivers of the UN response on the ground, ensuring that the wide and diverse expertise and assets of the United Nations system are used in the most efficient and effective way to support countries.

Finally, when we get past this crisis — which we will — we will face a choice.

We can go back to the world as it was before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises.

Our roadmap is the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to a different economy.

Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.

What the world needs now is solidarity.

With solidarity we can defeat the virus and build a better world.

Thank you. [Ends]

Critical work of UN ‘largely uninterrupted’, despite unprecedented challenge of COVID-19

27 March 2020

Photo: United Nations/Reem Abaza. The President of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, takes part in a remote briefing to UN Member States on the coronavirus crisis.

27 March 2020

In his welcoming remarks, the UN General Assembly President underscored the value of safety and solidarity in the face of a crisis that has affected practically every corner of the globe.

“Although we are not sitting together, be rest assured that we are in this together”, said Tijjani Muhammad Bande. “We must lead by example. We must stay at home, abide by social distancing recommendations, wash our hands, and look out for one another”.

Mr. Bande reported that thanks to technology, the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee was able to make important budget decisions during this time.

He said countries must not only defeat the new coronavirus: they also have to mitigate its social and economic impacts, stating that “we need to galvanise multilateral action now to protect gains made towards the eradication of poverty and zero hunger, as this crisis puts a strain on food production and supply chains, among others”.

Changes at the Security Council

The UN Security Council has had to change its working methods due to the pandemic.

Ambassador Zhang Jun of China, Council President for March, reported that despite difficulties, members have been holding meetings by video teleconference.

“We know that Member States are very much keen to know what’s happening in the Security Council. What’s true is that the new situation does create a lot of difficulties through maintaining transparency, but we are working very hard on that”, he said.

So far, the Council agenda has included “hotspot issues” such as the situations in Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Members have also issued statements condemning deadly attacks in Afghanistan and against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. They are also set to act soon on several draft resolutions.

Development gains under threat

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which is at the heart of the UN’s work in advancing sustainable development, has not stopped working, President Mona Juul told countries.

However, she warned of the pandemic’s threat to development gains, particularly in the world’s most vulnerable countries, while the need for humanitarian relief is urgent.

“Beyond immediate humanitarian aid, developing countries will need support to lessen the overall socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. In this, the UN must play a key role”, said Ms. Juul.

“We need joint UN efforts to assist developing countries in their recovery and in building more resilient health systems”.

As response will require substantial financing, she welcomed recent announcements on economic support by G-20 countries, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Communications for Solidarity

The UN Secretary-General participated in the G-20 virtual summit on Thursday, where he pressed for collective action and financial support to stop the virus and minimize its impact.

António Guterres updated Member States on measures taken to protect UN staff globally as they execute the Organization’s mandates, underlining that “our critical work is continuing largely uninterrupted”.

“Our Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams are on the frontlines”, he said. As of last week, 93 per cent of teams, reported “being engaged with national authorities in preparing preparedness and response plans.”

The UN chief urged countries to support initiatives announced this week, such as his appeal for a global ceasefire, a humanitarian response fund for the world’s poorest countries, and a call to stand against increasing hate crimes targeting people perceived to be associated with spreading the coronavirus.

He also announced the launch of a communications strategy aimed at fighting misinformation around the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Communications for Solidarity Initiative will inform the global public and promote and inspire acts of humanity around the world. [Ends]

UN Secretary-General’s Remarks at G20 Virtual Summit on the COVID-19 Pandemic

26 March 2020 

Thank you, Your Majesty, for convening this meeting. 

We are at war with a virus – and not winning it.

It took the world three months to reach 100,000 confirmed cases of infection. 

The next 100,000 happened in just 12 days. 

The third took four days.

The fourth, just one and a half.

This is exponential growth and only the tip of the iceberg. 

This war needs a war-time plan to fight it.

Solidarity is essential. Among the G-20 – and with the developing world, including countries in conflict. 

That is why I appealed for a global ceasefire.

Allow me to highlight three critical areas for concerted G-20 action.

First, to suppress the transmission of COVID-19 as quickly as possible.

That must be our common strategy. 

It requires a coordinated G-20 response mechanism guided by WHO.

All countries must be able to combine systematic testing, tracing, quarantining and treatment with restrictions on movement and contact – aiming to suppress transmission of the virus. 

And they have to coordinate the exit strategy to keep it suppressed until a vaccine becomes available.

At the same time, we need massive support to increase the response capacity of developing countries.

The United Nations system has a well-established supply chain network, and we stand ready to place it at your disposal.

Second, we must work together to minimize the social and economic impact.

The G-20 came of age in the 2008 financial crisis.  

The challenges before us dwarf those of 2008. 

And what we face today is not a banking crisis; it is a human crisis.

While the liquidity of the financial system must be assured, our emphasis must be on the human dimension.  

We need to concentrate on people, keeping households afloat and businesses solvent, able to protect jobs.

This will require a global response reaching double-digit percentages of the global economy.

I welcome infusions of liquidity and social and economic support in developed countries — with direct transfer of resources to people and businesses.

But a stimulus package to help developing countries with the same objectives also requires a massive investment.

For this, we need greater resources for the International Monetary Fund and other International Financial Institutions, a meaningful emission of Special Drawing Rights, coordinated swaps between central banks and steps to alleviate debt, such as a waiver of interest payments.  

I also appeal for the waving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.

Third, we must work together now to set the stage for a recovery that builds a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable economy, guided by our shared promise — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 


Keep updated on Covid-19:

The United Nations’ page on the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19)