31st Special Session of General Assembly in Response to Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic - Part 2

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03-Dec-2020 04:00:00
With more than 1.5 Million lives lost to COVID-19, world leaders in General Assembly demand urgent action to guarantee equitable distribution of life-saving vaccines.

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Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery Must Focus on Building Greener, Fairer World, Secretary-General Says, Warning against Leaving Broken Planet to Future Generations

World leaders came together virtually in a special session of the General Assembly today dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far claimed more than 1.5 million lives and sent the global economy into a tailspin, with speakers demanding urgent multilateral action to guarantee equitable distribution of life-saving vaccines and to trigger an economic recovery that can put the world back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The two-day special session — the first it has convened in four years — was mandated by the Assembly on 5 November, following its formal opening on 10 July and the adoption on 11 September of an omnibus resolution calling for a holistic response to the novel coronavirus outbreak that was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) nearly six months earlier. (See Press Releases GA/12255, GA/12262 and GA/12282.)

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, underscoring the enormous global impact of COVID-19, said that factual information and scientific guidance from the WHO should have been the basis for a coordinated global response. However, its recommendations were not followed, and today some countries are still rejecting facts and ignoring guidance, “and when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction”. Vaccines may become available in a matter of weeks or months, but they cannot undo damage that will stretch across the years and decades to come. “It is time for a reset. As we build a strong recovery, we must seize the opportunity for change,” he said.

Renewing his call for a global ceasefire so that countries can focus on fighting the novel coronavirus, he underscored the United Nations appeal for a stimulus package worth at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) as well as debt relief for all States that need it. Looking ahead, he said the post-pandemic recovery must address pre-existing conditions ranging from gaps in basic services to the climate emergency. But he warned: “We cannot bequeath a broken planet and huge debts to future generations. The money we spend on recovery must go into building a greener, fairer future.”

Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said that the special session marked an overdue and much-needed moment of reckoning. “This crisis compels us to shake up how things are done, to be bold and to restore trust in the United Nations,” he said. Going forward, he said that the international community must act multilaterally to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines, ease debt burdens, ensure universal health coverage, safeguard the environment and biodiversity, and jumpstart the Sustainable Development Goals. “The United Nations is working for you. We are united for you. Stay strong. There are brighter days ahead,” he told the peoples of the world.

Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered health, economic and above all humanitarian crises, with global infections reaching 65 million and 1.5 million deaths. The economic statistics are equally devastating, with global contraction of 5 per cent, five countries having defaulted on debt requirements, 20 facing severe food insecurity, 300 million jobs lost, and 100 million people pushed back into extreme poverty. “The world’s response must be equally bold,” he said, emphasizing that the international community must ensure a vaccine is made available to everyone everywhere, rich or poor, on an equitable basis, with health workers, the ill and infirm, women and children given priority access.

In pre-recorded statements, Heads of State and Government from the four corners of the globe shared their respective nations’ experiences with the worst global pandemic in a century. Many echoed calls for a vaccine to be made available equally and widely, for the debt burden on developing countries to be eased, and for human rights to be upheld. Several saw a unique opportunity for a post-COVID recovery that would put the world on track to a greener future, with sustainable development and concrete action to curb climate change.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France, proposed a donation mechanism to ensure that a portion of the first vaccines doses are used to vaccinate priority groups in developing countries. Those doses — whether they come from Europe, China, the Russian Federation or the United States, or whether they result from donations from States or pharmaceutical companies — would be allocated effectively and fairly, based on WHO recommendations. He stressed, however, that vaccines will not be enough. Unless primary health systems are strengthened in the most vulnerable countries, and unless health workers everywhere are trained, the overall health response will remain suboptimal, he said.

Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, noted the African Union’s targeted, deliberate response on the continent, establishing a fund to help economies recover, among other initiatives. He cautioned, however, that African countries will need continued support going forward, and called for the international community to launch a comprehensive economic stimulus package, suspend debt interest payments and lift sanctions on Sudan and Zimbabwe to aid their recovery.

Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, underlined the main factors in his country’s response to COVID-19, including the strength of its health-care system and its dedicated health workers. He stressed the importance of promoting basic preventive measures, as recommended by WHO — mask wearing, frequent hand washing and social distancing. Vaccines and medicines should be global public goods that are equally accessible to everyone.

Yi Wang, State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, echoed that sentiment, calling for information-sharing to promote a collective response to COVID-19 and enhanced cooperation to make vaccines accessible and affordable to all, including developing countries. Looking ahead to the winter months, he said: “We must be prepared for a prolonged struggle,” adding that economies must be reopened. Calling for enhanced development and resilience for emerging industries, he also underscored the need for macroeconomic policies that keep global supply chains stable.

Likewise, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, called on Member States to unite in pursuing global efforts ensuring full, equitable access to a potential vaccine. “The pandemic has taught us difficult lessons about inequality both at home and between countries,” he said, noting that advanced economies have spent 20 per cent of their GDP to support their citizens during the pandemic, while developing economies can only afford to spend 8 per cent.

Alexey Tsoy, Minister for Health of Kazakhstan, noted his Government’s various measures to ensure economic stability and counter the spread of infection in the country, including free outpatient drugs for COVID‑19 patients with pneumonia and the construction of 16 complexes that meet international standards. Further, more than $2 billion has been allocated to fight the pandemic and Kazakh scientists have developed a vaccine that has been vetted through clinical trials.

Kais Saied, President of Tunisia, said that as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, his country, together with France, spearheaded resolution 2532 (2020), unanimously adopted on 1 July. That text made it possible to expand the concept of collective security to include a public health dimension, he explained, adding the world still needs a plan that meets the needs of everyone impacted by the coronavirus.

Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President of Cuba, said that under the present circumstances, the establishment of a just, democratic and equitable international order is an imperative. “It is a condition for the survival of the species in an ever more interconnected and paradoxically unequal world,” he said. Given the severity of the crisis, he wondered why the enormous budget that some States have access to is currently being squandered in the arms race instead of to confront this and other pandemics, such as hunger and poverty.

Hassan Diab, President of the Council of Ministers of Lebanon, said that the pandemic hit his country just as it was addressing unprecedented financial and socioeconomic crises — only to be followed by the devastating Beirut port explosion on 4 August, which prompted a second nationwide lockdown. “The Lebanese public are forced into deciding if they die due to the coronavirus or out of poverty,” he said, explaining that Lebanon is unable to get enough external financing due to its debt status.

J.V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, said that today’s summit session is a long-awaited opportunity to break the hold of COVID-induced nationalism that has crippled a global response to the crisis. “It was with a sick sense of irony that in the year the United Nations marked its seventy-fifth anniversary, countries hoarded critical health supplies […] leaving many brave frontline health workers vulnerable,” he said, calling for radical reform and the democratization of global governance institutions to confront both COVID-19 and the climate emergency.

Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that the challenge now is to deal with increasing cases of the virus and save nations from economic ruin. The only way to accomplish this is to increase access to additional liquidity, he said, emphasizing that amounts generated to date are far from satisfying the needs of developing countries in recovering from the pandemic.

Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia, said that as an active member of the WHO Executive Board, his country is advocating for universal access to vaccines and treatments. He acknowledged the immense work undertaken by WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) based on science and focused on people and reaffirmed Colombia’s commitment to a sustainable recovery that leads to more resilient societies.

At the outset of the meeting, the Assembly observed a minute of silence for all victims of the pandemic, including those in the United Nations family.

The Assembly has held 30 special sessions between 1947 and 2016, the first on the question of Palestine and the last on the global drug problem.

Also speaking were Heads of State and Government and Ministers of Malawi, Turkey, Switzerland, Honduras, Azerbaijan (is his national capacity and on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Botswana, Monaco, Iraq, Marshall Islands, Kenya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Angola, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guyana, Suriname, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Latvia, Estonia, Serbia, Venezuela, Philippines, Nauru, Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Tuvalu, Djibouti, Belize, Zimbabwe, Italy, Republic of Korea, Andorra, Croatia, Nepal, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Bangladesh, Saint Lucia, Belgium, Mauritius, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Sweden, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Spain, Japan, Kuwait, Trinidad and Tobago, Republic of Moldova, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Albania, Congo, Algeria, Togo, Jordan, Malta, Bulgaria, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Mexico (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Hungary, Slovakia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Myanmar, Greece, Czech Republic, Iran, Maldives, Turkmenistan, San Marino, Oman, Côte d´Ivoire, Brazil, Senegal, Liechtenstein, Egypt, Rwanda, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation and Austria, as well as the President of the European Council of the European Union.

The General Assembly will reconvene on Friday, 4 December, at 9 a.m. to continue its special session, including interactive panel discussions on the United Nations system response to the pandemic, the road to a vaccine and resilience and recovering better from COVID-19, followed by the conclusion of its general debate.

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