UN chief pans countries which ignored facts about Covid

Published December 4, 2020
Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday decried countries — without naming names — who rejected the facts about the coronavirus pandemic and ignored guidance from the World Health Organisation. — AFP/File
Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday decried countries — without naming names — who rejected the facts about the coronavirus pandemic and ignored guidance from the World Health Organisation. — AFP/File

UNITED NAIONS: Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday decried countries — without naming names — who rejected the facts about the coronavirus pandemic and ignored guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Guterres addressed a special session of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on the coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and spread globally, so far infecting more than 100 million people and killing nearly 1.5 million.

“From the start, the World Health Organization provided factual information and scientific guidance that should have been the basis for a coordinated global response,” Guterres said.

“Unfortunately, many of these recommendations were not followed. And in some situations, there was a rejection of facts and an ignoring of the guidance. And when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction,” he said.

US President Donald Trump cut funding to the WHO earlier this year and announced plans to quit the Geneva-based body over accusations it was a puppet of China, which the WHO denied. The US withdrawal would have taken effect in July next year, but U.S. President-elect Joe Biden said he will rescind the move.

“In a global crisis, we must meet the expectations of those we serve with unity, solidarity and coordinated multilateral global action,” said Guterres, who is pushing for a Covid-19 vaccine to be made available to all and for rich countries to help developing countries combat and recover from the pandemic.

Long-simmering tensions between the United States and China hit boiling point over the pandemic at the United Nations, where months of bickering between the superpowers has spotlighted Beijing’s bid for greater multilateral influence in a challenge to Washington’s traditional global influence.

“This is not a time to point fingers. We have convened here to forge a path forward and to end the suffering of the people we serve,” General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said.

“The United Nations must lead on this.”

Long road ahead

The UN chief warned that the world could be fighting the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic for decades to come even if vaccines are quickly approved.

Guterres hailed the quick scientific progress, but cautioned that vaccination was not a panacea for the ills affecting the planet.

“Let’s not fool ourselves. A vaccine cannot undo damage that will stretch across years, even decades to come,” Guterres said.

“Extreme poverty is rising; the threat of famine looms. We face the biggest global recession in eight decades.” He said Covid-19 — which has killed nearly 1.5 million people globally — had exacerbated other long-term challenges, including inequality and climate change.

Leaders or senior officials from more than 100 countries will take part in the summit through short, pre-recorded speeches, but diplomats do not expect the virtual two-day gathering to lead immediately to major decisions.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2020

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