17 March 2020 - As the coronavirus outbreak spreads to more countries, so does solidarity among people everywhere. For its part, the United Nations continues to help countries counter the outbreak and protect the most vulnerable.   

About 20 to 30 blocks south of United Nations Headquarters in New York lies a community of more than 30,000 residents, where the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak upended their life.  All facilities, including playgrounds, are closed. Like many other communities, school closures, business shutdowns and social distancing have sent Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village scrambling to counter the threat of the virus.

Amid concerns of rising neighbourhood tensions in frustrating circumstances, however, acts of kindness and solidarity are burgeoning.  One of many United Nations staff members who live in the community and are working from there reported that a neighbour brought a set of art paper, crayons and charcoal pencils to give his 7-year-old daughter, who is now taking online lessons due to her school closure.  “This is something for your daughter to play with,” said the neighbour, who lives with a dog, expressing her concerns for the child and her working parents.  The girl later told the parents: “I’m happy because I can draw while daddy and mommy are working [from home].” With the gifts, she went outside, accompanied by her mother, and drew a picture of a cherry tree blossoming.  "I wanted to draw a picture of nature," she said. 

art supplies

The community is also implementing an initiative to help each other. Calling for volunteerism, its residential management company started pulling together a list of volunteers that can be called upon to carry out tasks, such as administering wellness checks for seniors and people with disabilities, food/water delivery and pet assistance.

As the outbreak reaches 179,843 confirmed cases and 7,176 deaths in 152 countries and territories, affected countries have seen the sense of togetherness, whether singing a song together outside windows, getting groceries for the elderly or calling a friend to alleviate anxiety and fear. 

 “All of us face a common threat – the coronavirus – COVID 19… Together, we can still change the course of this pandemic – but that means addressing inaction,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in his recent message, calling for “responsibility and solidarity.”

Regional Solidarity

“While this is an indication of an alert and effective surveillance, it also puts the spotlight on the need for more aggressive and whole of society efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19” 

For its part, the United Nations continued to help countries counter the outbreak. As the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak shifts from East Asia to Europe, the United Nations is calling on regional groups to unite efforts.  The World Health Organization (WHO) convened a meeting online about COVID-19 with representatives from the health ministries of the 53 member States of the WHO’s European Region. Participants discussed the public health measures already taken by countries to respond to the pandemic, and the joint actions needed to limit the spread of the virus.

The health agency also called on countries in South-East Asia to urgently scale-up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, as confirmed cases cross 480, and the disease claims eight lives. “The situation is evolving rapidly. We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

While Thailand has 177 confirmed cases, Indonesia 134, India 125, Sri Lanka 19, Maldives 13, Bangladesh 5, Nepal and Bhutan one each. These numbers are increasing quickly, with more clusters of virus transmission are being confirmed, the WHO reported.  “While this is an indication of an alert and effective surveillance, it also puts the spotlight on the need for more aggressive and whole of society efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” the Regional Director said.

“With COVID-19 officially declared a pandemic, all countries in Africa must act,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Every country can still change the course of this pandemic by scaling up their emergency preparedness or response. Cases may still be low in Africa and we can keep it that way with robust all-of-government actions to fight the new coronavirus.”

In East Asia, senior foreign affairs ministry officials from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea held a videoconference to confirm cooperation in COVID-19 responses, media reported.

Solidarity with the most vulnerable

In Geneva, Catalina Devandas, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, warned that little has been done to provide people with disabilities with the guidance and support needed to protect them during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“People with disabilities feel they have been left behind,” the UN human rights expert said. “Containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bathe.”

Other United Nations human rights experts also warned that emergency declarations based on the Covid-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals.  “It should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders,” they said.