Nearly 100 world leaders to speak at UN session on COVID-19

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Nearly 100 world leaders to speak at UN session on COVID-19

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Nearly 100 world leaders and several dozen ministers are slated to speak at the UN General Assembly's special session starting Thursday on the response to COVID-19 and the best path to recovery from the pandemic which has claimed 1.5 million lives, shattered economies, and left tens of millions of people unemployed in countries rich and poor.

Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said when he took the reins of the 193-member world body in September that it would have been better to hold the high-level meeting in June. Nonetheless, he said Wednesday it "provides a historic moment for us to come together to beat COVID-19."

"With news of multiple vaccines on the cusp of approval, and with trillions of dollars flowing into global recovery efforts, the international community has a unique opportunity to do this right," he said. "The world is looking to the UN for leadership. This is a test for multilateralism."

When financial markets collapsed and the world faced its last great crisis in 2008, major powers worked together to restore the global economy, but the COVID-19 pandemic has been striking for the opposite response: no leader, no united action to stop the pandemic that has circled the globe.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to leaders of the Group of 20, the world's richest nations responsible for 80 percent of the global economy ahead of their summit in late March as COVID-19 was starting its killing spree urging that they adopt a "wartime" plan and cooperate on an international response to suppress the coronavirus. But there was no response.

The two-day special session will not be raising money to finance vaccine immunizations or taking any political action, and there will be no final declaration, just a summary document from Bozkir.

"The real point of this special is to galvanize concrete action to approach our response to COVID-19 in a multilateral and collective way," General Assembly spokesman Brenden Varma said Wednesday. He added that there are currently many responses to the pandemic, but what's needed now is to bring together all countries, UN actors, the private sector and vaccine developers.

Leaders and ministers from over 140 countries will deliver pre-recorded speeches on Thursday after an in-person opening in the General Assembly including speeches by Bozkir and Guterres.

Among the leaders slated to address the session are French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and European Union chief Charles Michel. The United States will be represented by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

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