Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

20 March 2020

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right, good afternoon.  Welcome again to this strange new world that we are in.

**COVID-19 — Secretary-General

Just to update you, of course, you heard from the Secretary-General yesterday, he continues to work from Headquarters, where he is meeting virtually with the senior staff from around the UN system, to ensure coordination of the UN system’s response to COVID-19, immediate response and, of course, the world beyond, after this crisis passes.  And I think that he spoke quite a bit about that yesterday.

**COVID-19 — Brazil

Just to give you a bit of an update on what the system is doing in different parts of the world:

As you know, the UN Global Compact brings together more than 10,400 companies in 166 countries.  The Compact is now encouraging businesses to support workers and take actions on COVID-19.

For example, our UN team in Brazil tells us that the national UN Global Compact network is collecting information on measures that companies are taking to fight the pandemic and on voluntary initiatives to support the global response to the crisis.  The objective is to map and encourage measures that address workers’ rights and safety, including remote work.  Some companies have increased health services for people impacted by the virus.

**COVID-19 — Republic of Moldova

And in [Republic of] Moldova, the UN Country Team has been supporting the Government in putting together a real-time monitoring dashboard of virus cases in the country.  Led by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the public dashboard shows the total number of cases at national and local levels and the number of confirmed and recovered patients, among other key information.

**COVID-19 — Africa

Turning to the African continent, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that, as of yesterday, more than 600 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in 34 countries, compared to 147 just one week ago.

Dr. [Matshidiso] Moeti, the Regional Director of WHO for Africa, says that the rapid evolution of the virus in Africa is deeply worrisome and a clear signal for action.

But, he stressed, we can still change the course of this pandemic, calling on Governments to draw on all of their resources and capabilities to strengthen their response.

Twelve countries in the African region are now experiencing local transmission.  WHO says it is crucial that Governments prevent local transmission from evolving into a worst-case scenario of widespread sustained community transmission.

**COVID-19 — Humanitarian

And on the humanitarian front, as the virus spreads around the world, our humanitarian colleagues today expressed concern for the 100 million people living in warzones and other emergency settings who depend on the UN’s assistance.

Many people live in cramped conditions and with little or no access to proper sanitation and basic health services.  As the virus reaches these places, our humanitarian colleagues warn that the consequences could be devastating.

The humanitarian imperative is to keep getting lifesaving help out to these people, while taking action to avoid the catastrophic impact that the COVID-19 outbreak could have on them.

Relief agencies are concerned about the limited surveillance systems in countries with large numbers of vulnerable groups, while the additional burden of COVID-19 could mean that other current outbreaks such as cholera, measles and yellow fever receive less attention.

Overcrowding of camps for internally displaced persons in some of the world’s humanitarian hotspots are also high-risk areas for COVID-19.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and its partners are working around the clock to help raise awareness about how people can protect themselves and others from the virus.  They are also taking precautions to ensure the safety of their staff and the people they serve.

UN agencies are right now assessing where humanitarian operations are being disrupted and identifying solutions.

The UN is working on a global humanitarian response plan, which should be ready to launch next week.

And already, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has released $15 million to help contain the virus in vulnerable countries, while OCHA-managed funds in Afghanistan, Sudan and Jordan have also released funds to scale up preparedness.

**COVID-19 — Migration

And the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today that the inclusion of migrants and marginalized groups is necessary in all aspects of the response to COVID-19.

The UN agency said that it is particularly important that authorities make every effort to confront xenophobia.  The virus does not discriminate, and nor should our response, if it is to succeed.

IOM warned that migrants all too often face obstacles in accessing health care, and if they fear deportation, family separation or detention, they may be less willing to access health care or provide information on their health status.

IOM pointed out that while many countries have chosen to tighten controls at their borders, it is critical that such measures be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, in line with international law, and by prioritizing the protection of the most vulnerable.

**COVID-19 — UN Headquarters

And just at Headquarters, to give you an example, as of about an hour ago, our security colleagues told us that about 247 people swiped into the building for today, and that is down from 11,000 on a normal day.  So, we are taking our responsibility in lowering the footprint and cutting back on the workforce that actually has to be in the building.

**Locusts

Turning to a couple of other issues, first on locusts.

Our humanitarian colleagues expect a rapid deterioration of the desert locust situation in the Greater Horn of Africa.  There is widespread breeding and new swarms are starting to form.  As a result, this will pose an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods, as the next upsurge will coincide with the main cropping season across much of the region.

Aerial and ground locust control operations by Governments are ongoing, with the support from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and have reached thousands of hectares across the region.

However, if the swarms are not fully contained, impacts on crops and forage will drive up hunger in areas already facing very high levels of food insecurity.

Some 42 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, [United Republic of] Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen are already facing severe food insecurity.

The FAO locust appeal has been revised to include Sudan and Yemen and now calls for $153 million — that’s up from $138 million — to support the response in 10 countries.  As of 18 March, $110 million had been pledged.

**Chad

Now turning to Chad:  Last night, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) airlifted emergency relief items to Chad that are expected to respond to the humanitarian needs of some 10,000 Sudanese refugees.

Clashes in Sudan’s West Darfur since late last year have forced more than 16,000 people, mostly women and children, to cross into the neighbouring country of Chad.

**Uzbekistan

And you saw, yesterday, we issued a statement of the Secretary-General congratulating Uzbekistan on the passage this week of legislation set to end statelessness for at least some 50,000 people.  In granting nationality to those who previously had none, Uzbekistan is profoundly bettering the lives of a too-often invisible and vulnerable people.

**Yemen

And also yesterday, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, expressed alarm at the continuous military campaign in Al Jawf and Marib and the tragic toll it is taking on the lives of civilians.

“At a time when the world is struggling to fight a pandemic, the focus of the parties must shift away from fighting one another in ensuring that the population will not face even graver risks,” he said.

**South Sudan

And we have a statement from the High Commissioner for Human Rights on South Sudan, in which she expressed serious concern over the escalation in intercommunal violence in the central and eastern parts of the country in the past month.

She urged State authorities to curb the bloodshed and bring those responsible to justice.

**International Days

And despite everything, we still have a few international days to mark.

Strangely enough, today is the International Day of Happiness, as well as French Language Day.  Tomorrow, other days will be observed.  These include:  the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, World Poetry Day, the International Day of Nowruz, World Down’s Syndrome Day and the International Day of Forests.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General also has a message on the International Day of Nowruz, on which he said that COVID-19 is casting a shadow around the world, including the regions that mark this ancient festival.  He sends his deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones, and his best wishes to all those who have been affected.

I think that’s it for me.  So, let’s look at the WhatsApp board.

**Questions and Answers

What is the UN doing to [stop the] spread [of] the disease in Yemen?

You know, on Yemen, what would… the most important thing that could help stop the spread of the disease is a halt of the fighting.  Our humanitarian colleagues are also taking whatever precautions they can in terms of helping what remains of the local health system.  But, obviously, when you are talking about a country that has been suffering immense violence for quite a few years, especially attacks on health‑care facilities, which we have condemned repeatedly again and again, this makes every effort that much more difficult.

In Iran, our country team is working with the UN… with the Government in helping in whatever way they can.

Abdelhamid asked about… Russia and China called on the US to lift sanctions on Iran to deal with corona[virus].

We very much believe that the international community should come together at this point and to help every country, including Iran, which has seen such a major outbreak, to ensure that they get the access to the needs that they… to — excuse me — to the medical needs that they have.

My understanding is that there are a number of conversations that are being had, and we very much hope to see some improvement on that file soon.

Dulcie asked what the tally [is] for UN personnel in New York [who] have the virus.

I don’t think I have much… sorry.  This just in, as they say.  The total number of UN cases, not just at Headquarters but of UN cases, is 24.

Edie… [inaudible].  Coronavirus funding…  Yes.  Well, we are… our humanitarian colleagues will put out a funding appeal very early next week in trying to get all the information — sorry — to get all the funding that they need [inaudible] with the [inaudible] to mitigate risks to make sure the humanitarian workers have everything they need to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected.

What is important is that these will be increased needs, but this will not be… we would not want to see humanitarian funds already allocated to dire needs to one of the many appeals we’ve had to a new appeal.  So, we will need new funds in order to combat this.

Pam asked about Security Council meetings.

You will have to ask Security Council presidency on that.  We will support the Council in whatever way we can.

And, Toby, no, no new updates on NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) that I’ve been told.

[He later added:  The President-designate and the Bureau of the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) are closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the United Nations Headquarters.  Following the guidelines suggested by the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, the Bureau completed a risk assessment of the Review Conference.  On that basis, the President-designate, on 13 March 2020, wrote to the NPT political groups to propose the postponement of the 2020 Review Conference to a later date after a short, procedural meeting on 27 April, conditions permitting.  This proposal is currently under a silence procedure.]

IPS, asking about returnees who are being made to go through inhumane measures, quarantined in their own countries.

I think the medical needs that countries have put in place to protect themselves, which are very legitimate, should not hamper the… should not violate the dignity of human beings.  We’re very concerned… and I think the Secretary‑General talked about it.  We’re very concerned about human rights violations, about stigmatization of people who have the virus.

Okay, Edie.  I don’t know what we’re doing to celebrate the International Day of Happiness, maybe dreaming of a COVID‑free world, but I think we have to see what actually is done.

Arul asked about any comment on India executing four men convicted of rape and murder.

Our position has been clear, is that we call on all States to put a… to halt the use of capital punishment or at least put a moratorium on this.

Pam asked about the Secretary‑General’s statement on global recession.  I would… he said what he believed in his statement yesterday.  So, I would refer you to what he said.

Edie, I have no further information to share with you on the Iran question.

Betul asked if Syria’s reported any cases.  You would have to ask the WHO on those questions.

I think I’ve answered all of your questions… uh, Frank:  Can you repeat the figures how many people came to UN today?

So, in terms of UN cases, there are confirmed… there are 24 confirmed cases in UN staff.  That is not just at the Secretariat.

In terms of swipes, today, as of about 11 [a.m.], I think we had about 247 inward swipes, and that compares… usually, by the end of the day, on a regular day — and the last regular day we had was about 10 days ago, before we stopped the tours — was about 11,000.  So, I think that gives you… that gives you an idea of how many people are coming… physically coming into the building.

And Alan asked, am I right the SG is not going to leaving Headquarters in close [inaudible]?

The building… what is very important to underscore, the building is open.  The UN remains operational.  Everyone who can work from home, can telecommute, can… is being requested to do so.  So, that includes us.  Right?  That includes you.  That includes us.  We can still do what we need to do to do it from home.

The Secretary‑General is in the building.  He’s doing virtual meetings and teleconferencing with senior staff.  We will be ready to support Member States, the Security Council especially, if they feel they need to hold a meeting, be it in person or virtual.  Different combinations are being looked at, but all of those details will have to come through the presidency of the Security Council.

In terms of David Beasley, from the statement that he read, he is working from home in South Carolina, and he’s doing fine.  The Secretary‑General and him spoke… they spoke today by… yesterday by phone, and he’s the only senior UN official that I’m aware of who tested positive.

All right.  We will remain available whenever you need us, but, otherwise, we will see you Monday.  Be safe, and happy International Day of Happiness.

For information media. Not an official record.