‘Solidarity, hope’ and coordinated global response needed to tackle COVID-19 pandemic, says UN chief

19 March 2020

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.

Health emergency

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”.

Response and recovery

As the second crisis priority, 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”.

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

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

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”.

‘Recover better’

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

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

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

UN Secretary-General’s virtual press encounter on COVID-19 crisis

19 March 2020

You may watch this virtual press stakeout on UN Web TV:

http://webtv.un.org/watch/player/6142886874001

The transcript of this virtual press encounter is provided by UNIC Manila below:

A global recession – perhaps of record dimensions – is a near certainty.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has just reported that workers around the world could lose as much as 3.4 trillion U.S. dollars in income by the end of this year.

This is, above all, a human crisis that calls for solidarity.

Our human family is stressed and the social fabric is being torn.  People are suffering, sick and scared.

Current responses at the country level will not address the global scale and complexity of the crisis.

This is a moment that demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies.   We must recognize that the poorest and most vulnerable — especially women — will be the hardest hit.

I welcome the decision by G20 leaders to convene an emergency summit next week to respond to the epic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic – and I look forward to taking part.

My central message is clear:  We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply.  We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times.

The creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale.

Our world faces a common enemy.  We are at war with a virus.

COVID-19 is killing people, as well as attacking the real economy at its core – trade, supply chains, businesses, jobs.  Entire countries and cities are in lockdown.  Borders are closing.  Companies are struggling to stay in business and families are simply struggling to stay afloat.

But in managing this crisis, we also have a unique opportunity.

Done right, we can steer the recovery toward a more sustainable and inclusive path.  But poorly coordinated policies risk locking in — or even worsening — already unsustainable inequalities, reversing hard-won development gains and poverty reduction.

I call on world leaders to come together and offer an urgent and coordinated response to this global crisis.

I see three critical areas for action:

FIRST, TACKLING THE HEALTH EMERGENCY.

Many countries have exceeded the capacity to care for even mild cases in dedicated health facilities, with many unable to respond to the enormous needs of the elderly.

Even in the wealthiest countries, we see health systems buckling under pressure.

Health spending must be scaled up right away to meet urgent needs and the surge in demand — expanding testing, bolstering facilities, supporting health care workers, and ensuring adequate supplies – with full respect for human rights and without stigma.

It has been proven that the virus can be contained.  It must be contained.

If we let the virus spread like wildfire – especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world — it would kill millions of people.

And we need to immediately move away from a situation where each country is undertaking its own health strategies to one that ensures, in full transparency, a coordinated global response, including helping countries that are less prepared to tackle the crisis.

Governments must give the strongest support to the multilateral effort to fight the virus, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), whose appeals must be fully met.

The health catastrophe makes clear that we are only as strong as the weakest health system.

Global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests.

SECOND, WE MUST FOCUS ON THE SOCIAL IMPACT AND THE ECONOMIC RESPONSE AND RECOVERY.

Unlike the 2008 financial crisis, injecting capital in the financial sector alone is not the answer.  This is not a banking crisis – and indeed, banks must be part of the solution.

And it is not an ordinary shock in supply and demand; it is a shock to society as a whole.

The liquidity of the financial system must be guaranteed, and  banks must use their resilience to support their customers.

But let’s not forget this is essentially a human crisis.

Most fundamentally, we need to focus on people — low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises and the most vulnerable.

And that means wage support, insurance, social protection, preventing bankruptcies and job loss.

And that also means designing fiscal and monetary responses to ensure that the burden does not fall on those who can least afford it.

The recovery must not come on the backs of the poorest – and we cannot create a legion of new poor.

We need to get resources directly in the hands of people.  A number of countries are taking up social protection initiatives such as cash transfers and universal income.

We need to take it to the next level to ensure support reaches those entirely dependent on the informal economy and countries less able to respond.

Remittances are a lifeline in the developing world – especially now.  Countries have already committed to reduce remittance fees to 3 percent, much below the current average levels.  The crisis requires us to go further, getting as close to zero as possible.

In addition, G20 leaders have taken steps to protect their own citizens and economies by waiving interest payments.  We must apply that same logic to the most vulnerable countries in our global village and alleviate their debt burden.

Across the board, we need a commitment to ensure adequate financial facilities to support countries in difficulties.  The IMF, the World Bank and other International Financial Institutions play a key role. The private sector is essential to seeking and creating investment opportunities and protecting jobs.

And we must refrain from the temptation of resorting to protectionism.  This is the time to dismantle trade barriers and re-establish supply chains.

Looking at the broader picture, disruptions to society are having a profound impact.

We must address the effects of this crisis on women.  The world’s women are disproportionally carrying the burden at home and in the wider economy.

Children are also paying a heavy price.  More than 800 million children are out of school right now — many of whom rely on school to provide their only meal.  We must ensure that all children have access to food and equal access to learning – bridging the digital divide and reducing the costs of connectivity.

As people’s lives are disrupted, isolated and upturned, we must prevent this pandemic from turning into a crisis of mental health.  Young people will be most at risk.

The world needs to keep going with core support to programmes for the most vulnerable, including through UN-coordinated humanitarian and refugee response plans.  Humanitarian needs must not be sacrificed.

THIRD, AND FINALLY, WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO “RECOVER BETTER”.

The 2008 financial crisis demonstrated clearly that countries with robust social protection systems suffered the least and recovered most quickly from its impact.

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.

We have a framework for action – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  We must keep our promises for people and planet.

The United Nations – and our global network of country offices — will support all governments to ensure 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 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

More than ever before, we need solidarity, hope and the political will to see this crisis through together.

Thank you.

Q&A

Under-Secretary-General Fleming:  SecretaryGeneral, we’re now going to take questions from the press. This is a virtual press conference, the first of its kind for you and in our age.

Our first question is from Edith Lederer from the Associated Press. She asks: Mr. SecretaryGeneral, you’re calling especially on the G20 countries to take the lead, but many of them are struggling to deal with the COVID19 pandemic in their own countries. Where is the money going to come from to fulfil the ambitious programme you just outlined?

Secretary-General:  Well, we see that whenever there is a problem in the banking system, trillions appear to solve the problems of the banks. And these trillions must appear now. Governments, Central Banks must work to guarantee that there is liquidity in the economy but also that funds are mobilised to those that are most in need. And those that are most in need are people on one hand and the poorest countries on the other. And it is absolutely essential to show solidarity in the way we respond to the crisis.

A wealthy country must not be convinced that it has only to deal with its own citizens. It’s in the interest of a wealthy country to contribute to a global response because the crisis can come from wherever at any moment, and it is in the interest of everybody to fight it effectively, especially in the most vulnerable areas of the world.

Ms. Fleming:  The next question is from many journalists collectively. Are you concerned that the restrictions on travel will boost nationalist sentiments? You say that international cooperation is the answer. How do you achieve that?

Secretary-General:  I think that the restrictions on travel can be understood because of the need to contain the spread of the disease, but it’s very important at the same time people feel the need of solidarity. It’s very important to fight fake news, to fight those campaigns in social media that try to spread fear, that try to spread antagonism, that try to create divisions.

This is a moment of solidarity, and this is a moment where political leaders, religious leaders, community leaders must convey a very strong message, asking for people to feel that we need do this together. And even if we are physically separated  I am physically separated from my family at the present moment, but we are together fighting this crisis. And I think that the same must happen with countries. The same must happen with peoples. We can be physically separated, but we need to do it together.

Ms. Fleming:  The next question is from Valeria Robecco from the Italian news agency ANSA. Africa is now experiencing a limited number of cases, but some experts fear that there will be a wave of cases in the near future. Are you working on some plans to help the most vulnerable areas?

Secretary-General:  Yes.  Our teams in Africa are working very hard with the governments to support them, but my very strong appeal to the G20 is to have a particular concern with African countries and other countries in the developing world. We must absolutely be strong in supporting them because the virus will come… is coming to them, and their systems are extremely weak. So, they need very strong support from the developed world, and if that support is denied, we could have catastrophic consequences.

If the virus is not contained because countries have not the capacity to contain it, it can spread like wildfire, as I mentioned, and we could have… even with low rates of mortality, we could have millions of people dying, and this is absolutely unacceptable.

Ms. Fleming:  We’re going to take two more questions. This next question is from a number of journalists. As you know, the journalists gathered here are working in this building. And they want to know: Is it worth the risk to keep the UN Secretariat building open? And can the UN Security Council and the General Assembly meet virtually?

Secretary-General:  First of all, we were ahead of the curve in the UN, in the UN Headquarters. We took precautions earlier than they were prescribed even by the authorities here and in different other parts of the world. We have been extremely careful in order to contain the spread of the disease.

I’m working in headquarters. Most of our staff is working at home, and I believe that when people absolutely need to come, they can come, because I think we have created the conditions to do it in perfect safety.

On the other hand, it is very important to create the conditions for Member States to be able to meet. The Security Council will meet next week, more than once, and we have provided conditions for virtual meetings to take place at any moment.

In some circumstances, physical presence is needed. In others, it is not. But we have all the conditions to allow for virtual meetings to take place with any number of people.

I was just, today, in a virtual meeting with our 140 resident coordinators around the world. I’ve been in contact every day with  eight to ten of our offices around the world and of our missions around the world. And I can tell you I’m very proud, because even in these very difficult circumstances, the UN everywhere is open for businesses, and we are working to make sure that we deliver in relation to the Member States that need our support and in relation to the people we care for, the most vulnerable everywhere.

Ms. Fleming:  Final question from Majeed at Rudaw Network. Does the SG think there should be any special financial support from developed countries to the developing countries, especially the ones dealing with other crises, such as wars?

Secretary-General:  It is absolutely essential to have solidarity at the present moment. It’s absolutely essential that the effort that the developed countries are making to support their own citizens is extended to those countries that have not the capacity to do the same to their citizens and where poverty is much more widespread and the conditions to fight the disease are much less effective.

Ms. Fleming:  That’s the end of this press conference. Thank
you all for tuning in, and those who tuned in online, also, thank you very much.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.

[Press Conference concludes at 12:50 p.m.]

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 18 March 2020

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the 18 March 2020 briefing on Covid-19 and the media briefing that followed is available on Youtube:

The text of his opening remarks is reproduced below:

It’s now more than a month since the last case of Ebola in DRC. If it stays that way, the outbreak will be declared over in less than a month’s time.

We’d like to thank all our partners for their solidarity in staying the course in the service of the people of DRC – and my special appreciation to the government and people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

That same spirit of solidarity must be at the centre of our efforts to defeat COVID-19.

More than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to WHO, and more than 8000 people have lost their lives.

More than 80% of all cases are from two regions – the Western Pacific and Europe.

We know that many countries now face escalating epidemics and are feeling overwhelmed.

We hear you. We know the tremendous difficulties you face and the enormous burden you’re under. We understand the heart-wrenching choices you are having to make.

We understand that different countries and communities are in different situations, with different levels of transmission.

Every day, WHO is talking to ministers of health, heads of state, health workers, hospital managers, industry leaders, CEOs and more – to help them prepare and prioritize, according to their specific situation.

Don’t assume your community won’t be affected. Prepare as if it will be.

Don’t assume you won’t be infected. Prepare as if you will be.

But there is hope. There are many things all countries can do.

Physical distancing measures – like cancelling sporting events, concerts and other large gatherings – can help to slow transmission of the virus.

They can reduce the burden on the health system.

And they can help to make epidemics manageable, allowing targeted and focused measures.

But to suppress and control epidemics, countries must isolate, test, treat and trace.

If they don’t, transmission chains can continue at a low level, then resurge once physical distancing measures are lifted.

WHO continues to recommend that isolating, testing and treating every suspected case, and tracing every contact, must be the backbone of the response in every country. This is the best hope of preventing widespread community transmission.

Most countries with sporadic cases or clusters of cases are still in the position to do this.

Many countries are listening to our call and finding solutions to increase their ability to implement the full package of measures that have turned the tide in several countries.

But we know that some countries are experiencing intense epidemics with extensive community transmission.

We understand the effort required to suppress transmission in these situations. But it can be done.

A month ago, the Republic of Korea was faced with accelerating community transmission. But it didn’t surrender.

It educated, empowered and engaged communities;

It developed an innovative testing strategy and expanded lab capacity;

It rationed the use of masks;

It did exhaustive contact tracing and testing in selected areas;

And it isolated suspected cases in designated facilities rather than hospitals or at home.

As a result, cases have been declining for weeks. At the peak there were more than 800 cases, and today the report was only 90 cases.

WHO is working in solidarity with other countries with community transmission to apply the lessons learned in Korea and elsewhere, and adapt them to the local context.

Likewise, WHO continues to recommend that, wherever possible, confirmed mild cases should be isolated in health facilities, where trained professionals can provide good medical care, and prevent clinical progression and onward transmission.

If that’s not possible, countries can use community facilities to isolate and care for mild cases and refer them for specialized care quickly if needed.

If health facilities are at risk of being overwhelmed, people with mild disease can be cared for at home.

Although this is not the ideal situation, WHO has advice on our website for how home-care can be provided as safely as possible.

WHO continues to call on all countries to implement a comprehensive approach, with the aim of slowing down transmission and flattening the curve.

This approach is saving lives and buying time for the development of vaccines and treatments.

As you know, the first vaccine trial has begun, just 60 days after the genetic sequence of the virus was shared by China. This is an incredible achievement.

We commend the researchers around the world who have come together to systemically evaluate experimental therapeutics.

Multiple small trials with different methodologies may not give us the clear, strong evidence we need about which treatments help to save lives.

WHO and its partners are therefore organizing a study in many countries in which some of these untested treatments are compared with each other.

This large, international study is designed to generate the robust data we need, to show which treatments are the most effective.

We have called this study the SOLIDARITY trial.

The SOLIDARITY trial provides simplified procedures to enable even hospitals that have been overloaded to participate.

Many countries have already confirmed that they will join the SOLIDARITY trial – Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand – and I trust many more will join.

I continue to be inspired by the many demonstrations of solidarity from all over the world.

The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund has now raised more than US$43 million from more than 173,000 individuals and organizations, a few days since we launched it. I’d especially like to thank FIFA for its contribution of US$10 million.

These and other efforts give me hope that together, we can and will prevail.

This virus is presenting us with an unprecedented threat. But it’s also an unprecedented opportunity to come together as one against a common enemy – an enemy against humanity.

I thank you.

WHO Covid-19 Mythbusters

COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates

From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.

Cold weather and snow CANNOT kill the new coronavirus.

There is no reason to believe that cold weather can kill the new coronavirus or other diseases. The normal human body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the external temperature or weather. The most effective way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water.

Taking a hot bath does not prevent the new coronavirus disease

Taking a hot bath will not prevent you from catching COVID-19. Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C to 37°C, regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower. Actually, taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can burn you. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that coud occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.

The new coronavirus CANNOT be transmitted through mosquito bites.

To date there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes. The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Also, avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing and sneezing.

Are hand dryers effective in killing the new coronavirus?

No. Hand dryers are not effective in killing the 2019-nCoV. To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.

Can an ultraviolet disinfection lamp kill the new coronavirus?

UV lamps should not be used to sterilize hands or other areas of skin as UV radiation can cause skin irritation.

How effective are thermal scanners in detecting people infected with the new coronavirus?

Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature) because of infection with the new coronavirus.

However, they cannot detect people who are infected but are not yet sick with fever. This is because it takes between 2 and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever.

Can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus?

No. Spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body will not kill viruses that have already entered your body. Spraying such substances can be harmful to clothes or mucous membranes (i.e. eyes, mouth). Be aware that both alcohol and chlorine can be useful to disinfect surfaces, but they need to be used under appropriate recommendations.

Do vaccines against pneumonia protect you against the new coronavirus?

No. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus.

The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against 2019-nCoV, and WHO is supporting their efforts.

Although these vaccines are not effective against 2019-nCoV, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health.

Can regularly rinsing your nose with saline help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?

No. There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus.

There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. However, regularly rinsing the nose has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.

Can eating garlic help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?

Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.

Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?

People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?

People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

Are antibiotics effective in preventing and treating the new coronavirus?

No, antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria.

The new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment.

However, if you are hospitalized for the 2019-nCoV, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.

Are there any specific medicines to prevent or treat the new coronavirus?

To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.