UN boss joins call for countries to pull together in COVID fight

UN boss joins call for countries to pull together in COVID fight

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

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WORLD leaders are concerned that almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a deficit in coordination and support among countries to help propel recovery, especially for countries which are less able to withstand the financial and socio-economic brunt of the crisis.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said yesterday that as the disease continues to wrack vulnerable countries and economies, “so far we have not yet seen enough solidarity to assist with the massive and urgent support that those countries and communities need”.

He was speaking at a virtual press conference following a high-level meeting of heads of states and governments, and international organisations, which was held to consider specific actions to help countries address the crushing impacts of COCVID-19.

The meeting was convened by Secretary General Guterres, together with the Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Guterres pointed out that in the four months since he had met with the prime ministers in May, 25 million more people have contracted COVID-19 and 600,000 more have died.

The leaders stressed that the pandemic, which has now claimed more than one million lives and seen more than 33 million confirmed cases, has gone beyond a health and humanitarian crisis to also become an unprecedented global development emergency. Estimates are that it could drive close to 100 million to extreme poverty, and an additional 265 million people could face acute food shortages by the end of this year.

According to the UN, of the US$11 trillion that has been spent globally to respond to the financial impacts of the pandemic so far, 88 per cent has been disbursed by high-income countries, compared to only 2.5 per cent by emerging and developing economies.

Also addressing the press conference, Prime Minister Holness said the objective of the meeting was to “secure buy-in at the highest political level to mount an ambitious coordinated international effort commensurate to the magnitude of the crisis”. He said the effort had been successful in gaining the support of world leaders to take decisive action to mitigate the devastating impact of the pandemic.

He said the leaders have been presented with a menu of concrete policy options to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lives and livelihoods, through the work of six country-led discussion groups, which focused on critical aspects of the crisis.

These include proposals to mobilise the resources needed to finance near-term emergency measures to provide crisis relief; stimulate recovery efforts over the medium term; and invest in long term resilience-building based on sustainable development pathways that are inclusive.

The prime minister emphasised that the leaders' initiative creates a pathway for developed countries to align their global outlook with that of developing countries. “The truth is that the pandemic presents an opportunity for us to rethink the global financial system and how it can be used to promote our equitable development globally,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Guterres called on the World Bank and other multilaterals to use existing or innovative facilities for concessional financing to developing countries. “We must stop the virus in its tracks, recover and strengthen our systems for the future,” he emphasised.

He also argued that the international community should increase resources available to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including new allocation of special withdrawing rights, and voluntary reallocation of existing special drawing rights. “This is exactly the kind of crisis for which the IMF was created, to put economies back on their feet,” he remarked.

He stressed that many countries urgently need debt relief and that the debt service special initiative could be extended and its scope extended to all developing and middle-income countries in need.

Guterrez urged the international community to take collective action to provide the US$35 billion that the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator needs, to ensure equitable access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to fight the virus. The ACT accelerator is a global collaboration aimed at fast-tracking the development, production and equitable access to tests, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

He stressed that it is critical that all governments cooperate on the roll-out of vaccination, noting that in addition to the coalition of countries which are cooperating under COVAX — the vaccination pillar of the ACT — some countries are working on providing vaccines for their own citizens and others have announced that they will share vaccines with developing countries.

The forum culminates the work done over the past five months by finance ministries, the UN and other international organisations and some of the world's leading economists to find the policy options and solutions that can advance comprehensive multilateral response to the devastating social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

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