Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at a joint briefing to Member States on the Organization’s response to COVID-19, in New York today:
I want to start by thanking the Presidents of the General Assembly, Security Council and the Economic and Social Council for their solidarity and for the determination and patience with which they have been facing the enormous practical and technical difficulties in the work of the bodies they preside.
I think [the technical challenges] that just happened demonstrate how these difficulties can occur and so my gratitude and my appreciation.
And I would like to express to all the distinguished delegates and colleagues and especially to the Permanent Representatives that, like me, are away from their countries — to express my solid solidarity as, like me, you are concerned about your families and friends in your home countries, and about the effect this crisis is having on your communities and nations.
As it was said, I am here together with five members of the Executive Committee. We are working sometimes very far away from each other, but I can tell you we have never worked so closely together in solidarity and coordination. I wanted them to participate in this session exactly to demonstrate that we are all as a team at the disposal of Member States. And so, all of them will be able to answer your questions, probably much better than myself.
And I want to add a note of heartfelt thanks to the courageous and hard-working staff of the United Nations, working in some of the most difficult and dangerous locations.
We are taking all measures possible to keep staff safe. I can report that our critical work is continuing largely uninterrupted. Our business continuity plans are working. We are able to procure goods and services, pay salaries and vendors, operate our data centres and protect our premises and staff. Staff are motivated and committed to fulfilling their functions — here in New York and across the globe.
In New York, we have taken significant steps since mid-March to reduce the footprint in the building. As you know, and always trying to be ahead of the curve in relation to the progression of the pandemic in the city, most of our staff have been working remotely, non-essential travel has been discouraged, guided tours have been suspended and non-mandated meetings and events cancelled.
Following the executive order by the Governor of New York last week, we have moved to full telecommuting. Only those staff whose physical presence is absolutely necessary are coming to the building.
A dedicated website has been developed to keep the public, delegates and United Nations personnel up to date on the crisis and to provide resources to maintain wellness, including mental health, during this highly challenging time.
We have established a 24-hour hotline for information and we are monitoring the well-being of directly impacted UN staff in New York and around the world. The Permanent Missions of Member States are also encouraged to share information with the UN Medical Services. To support staff, we paid this month’s salaries almost a week earlier than usual, taking into account that many had to make very dramatic adjustments in the way they live.
Answers to frequently asked questions on a host of issues — including telecommuting, cancellation of travel, rest and recuperation and medical insurance — have been shared with all staff through webinars, video messages, letters and guidance notes and are available on the COVID-19 website.
All conference and related services have now switched into telecommuting mode with the difficulties and glitches that you have obviously have already witnessed, but with the determination to move ahead. Documentation and publications continue to be processed. They are being distributed electronically and provided online for meeting participants.
I have been doing everything possible, together with my colleagues, for all the reports that are due to the different bodies to be delivered and to be delivered on time. Unfortunately, interpretation services are currently not available remotely, but we are exploring options to provide this function.
Let me now turn to our work outside New York and in the field. Over the course of last week, I had video conferences with all duty stations, Regional Economic Commissions, Resident Coordinators and Special Representatives in peacekeeping and Special Envoys in political missions.
My message was three-fold: Take all precautions to protect staff, adapt to ensure that critical functions continue and work with host Governments to support their efforts.
In early February, we activated a United Nations Crisis Management Team under the leadership of World Health Organization (WHO), and the whole United Nations system is mobilized to work on critical issues.
Our Resident Coordinators and UN country teams are on the frontlines. As of last week, 93 per cent of United Nations country teams reported being engaged with national authorities in preparing preparedness and response plans. The Development Coordination Office is obtaining key data and collaborating with partners to deliver time-sensitive information and communications guidance.
We are holding weekly virtual meetings with the 129 Resident Coordinators to provide policy and operational support. Many of our economists in Resident Coordinator’s Offices are collaborating with regional economic commissions and United Nations country teams to analyse the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19. These analyses will be important in deciding how best the United Nations can support countries in defining priorities and programming responses, particularly in ensuring that recovery from the pandemic supports and lifts the poorest and the most vulnerable.
We will also be issuing next week a report that will reinforce my calls for shared responsibility and global solidarity with a concrete road map for the United Nations response, and which will serve equally to empower Governments and partners to act urgently. This report will be absolutely instrumental for all our Resident Coordinators and country teams to better serve the Governments of the countries we work with.
To assist our peacekeeping operations and special political missions, a field support group is developing solutions to enable missions to address the health crisis while delivering on their critical mandates. Our medical staff have been assessing the capacities of our host countries and field entities, including the availability of laboratory testing and personal protective equipment.
For countries with limited or no intensive care capacity, WHO has instituted the same MEDEVAC mechanism as for Ebola. We are working together with several Member States trying to create an operational MEDEVAC system that can grant assistance to our colleagues worldwide.
Standard operating procedures for the management of suspect cases in the workplace in a non-clinical setting have been disseminated to Resident Coordinators and heads of entities, and guidance on how duty stations can manage their first case has been sent out.
The United Nations has a well-established mechanism to coordinate supply chain support to countries, and we stand ready to place the global network of supply chain of the different United Nations entities at the disposal of Member States for health supplies, medical staff and other needs.
We are also working with troop-contributing countries to manage rotations. Moving troops in and out of countries during a global health pandemic is extremely challenging and we have postponed rotations. Criteria are being developed to determine when rotations can take place in the current circumstances, and we are in close dialogue with host countries and troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries in order to overcome the difficulties that exist today.
Let me now turn to broader United Nations-wide efforts to address the crisis and its aftermath.
On Monday, I called on warring parties to silence the guns and instead to help create corridors for life-saving aid and open precious windows for diplomacy. All my Special Envoys and Special Representatives are working hard to ensure that this appeal is positively responded to and that the positive responses are followed by necessary measures in the form of coordination to allow the ceasefires to be effective.
On Wednesday, we launched a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries. We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable — millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves. And yesterday, the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide called for people to stand up against the increase in hate crimes targeting individuals and groups perceived to be associated with the coronavirus.
I ask you all to support these appeals in whatever way you can. I have also been advocating for action in three critical areas, including by addressing yesterday’s G20 summit.
First, to suppress the transmission of COVID-19 in a coordinated way as quickly as possible. That must be our common strategy. And that implies we need massive support to increase the response capacity of developing countries and those in the most fragile contexts.
Second, we must work together to minimize the social and economic impact. While the liquidity of the financial systems must be assured, our overarching emphasis must be on the human dimension. This is a human crisis, not a financial one.
We need to concentrate on people, keeping households afloat and businesses solvent, able to pay their workers. This will require a package reaching double-digit percentages of global gross domestic product (GDP), including a global stimulus package to help developing countries that requires a massive investment by the international community.
We have been in close contact with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other international financial institutions for that purpose. I also appealed for the waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.
Third, and finally, we must set the stage for recovery that builds a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable economy, guided by our shared promise — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. All our efforts need to be underpinned by a strong commitment to respect for all human rights for everyone, without stigma. Recovery must address the inequalities, including gender inequalities, that are leaving so many more people vulnerable to social and economic shocks.
And we are not only fighting a pandemic; in the words of Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO], we are fighting an “infodemic”. Our common enemy is a virus, but our enemy is also a growing surge of misinformation. So to overcome this virus, we need to urgently promote facts and science.
We also need to promote hope and solidarity over despair and division. We are therefore launching a COVID-19 Communications for Solidarity Initiative to rapidly inform the global public and promote and inspire acts of humanity around the world.
Today’s threats — from COVID to climate change — are global and must be addressed through multilateral cooperation. That is what the United Nations continues to offer, even, and especially, in these trying times.