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26 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.

Good afternoon.

**COVID-19 — G20

The Secretary-General addressed the G20’s virtual summit on the COVID-19 pandemic this morning.  He told G20 leaders that we are at war with a virus — and not winning it.  With an exponential growth in cases, the Secretary-General said the world needs a war-time plan to fight the pandemic.  For this, he stressed that solidarity is essential among the G20 and with the developing world, including countries in conflict, which is why he issued a call earlier this week for a global ceasefire.

The Secretary-General called for three critical areas for concerted action by the G20.  First, he underscored that COVID‑19 transmission must be suppressed as quickly as possible, which requires a coordinated G20 response mechanism guided by the World Health Organization (WHO).  He also appealed for the waiving of sanctions that can undermine country’s capacity to respond to this pandemic.  Second, he said, we must work together to minimize the social and economic impact.  What we face today, he said, is not a banking crisis like the one in 2008 — it is a human crisis.  Third, the Secretary-General emphasized that we must work together now to set the stage for a recovery that builds a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable economy, guided by our shared promise — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  His full remarks were shared with you this morning.

**Syria

Turning now to a few country-specific issues related to COVID‑19, I can tell you, of course, that we are deeply concerned about the potential impact of the virus on millions of people across Syria, and particularly the over 900,000 people who remain displaced due to hostilities since 1 December in the country’s north-west.  According to WHO, the displaced live in conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections.  Besides overcrowding, they also face physical and mental stress and deprivation due to a lack of housing, food and clean water.  There are currently over 6 million internally displaced people throughout the country.

WHO is responding across Syria.  It is prioritizing prevention, preparedness and risk communication by supporting health responders to detect, diagnose and prevent spread, surveillance of entry points, provision of protective equipment and training of health workers.  Across the country, efforts are being accelerated to prepare laboratories and isolation wards and to inform the public.  Health facilities and selected intensive care units are being prepared and communities most at risk have been identified.  A particular focus has been given to the north‑west of the country, where WHO is shipping in additional ventilators and personal protective equipment to better cope with the strain on health care.

**Libya

Turning to Libya, we are of course very worried by the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in the country.  The health and safety of all people in Libya, including 345,000 of the most vulnerable, is at risk.  A possible outbreak could overwhelm the already stretched humanitarian aid capacity.  The United Nations is supporting Libyan authorities in COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts, but funding is urgently required so that the national and UN health sector’s response plans can be implemented.  Sustaining funding for the Libya Humanitarian Response Plan for the COVID-19 pandemic is critical to ensure that existing vulnerabilities are not exacerbated and life-saving needs are addressed.  The UN is also alarmed that hostilities have continued in and around Tripoli despite the recently announced humanitarian pause.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In a statement issued today, Leila Zerrougui, the Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), echoed the Secretary-General's call for a global ceasefire.  She said the country needs peace and security more than ever to ensure that health services and humanitarian assistance reach all those who need it.  Ms. Zerrougui also reiterated that the UN is fully mobilized to support the efforts of the Congolese authorities and to protect the population.

**India

Turning to India, the UN Resident Coordinator in India, Renata Dessallien, welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy for a nation-wide 21‑day lockdown to curtail the spread of the virus.  The UN system in India is fully mobilized and ready to further step up its support to the Government of India to fight COVID-19, said Ms. Dessallien, adding that she believes that, if we work together, we can overcome one of the greatest health threats of our lifetime.  UN agencies are working with the Government on preparedness and response measures, disease surveillance, lab and research protocols, risk communications, training on infection prevention and a control and cluster containment plan, as well as surveillance and tracking of travellers.  The UN in India remains active and is determined to deliver for the people they serve, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, who may be among the hardest hit.

**South Sudan

And in South Sudan, where there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the WHO, the UN team is working with authorities to mobilize the resources to strengthen the national capacity to prepare to respond to COVID-19, including both immediate health priorities and possible social and economic impacts.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and WHO are helping with national and local coordination, planning and monitoring, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working on infection prevention, control, risk communication and community engagement.

WHO teams are also helping Governments with surveillance, rapid response capacity and case investigation.  A laboratory with capacity to test COVID-19 has just been set up.  The UN has also supported the construction of a multipurpose infectious disease unit to isolate and treat suspected cases.  For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is also helping the Government screen people entering the country, including the installation of a thermal scanner at Juba International Airport.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and WHO are also supporting with logistics.

**Burkina Faso

And in Burkina Faso, as part of our work to support the Government’s response to COVID-19, UNICEF has enlisted the singer Smarty, a hip-hop star in the country, to give a boost to prevention efforts.  The result is a video produced and designed to share information that can save lives.  In addition to this initiative, UNICEF has trained staff to sensitize the population on measures to prevent the spread of the virus.  The agency is also working with partners to increase access to water and is accelerating the distribution of soap and hand sanitizer, especially in areas with a high concentration of displaced people.  The song is up on the website for you.

**Philippines

In a note we put out yesterday, you will have seen that we welcomed the temporary ceasefire announced by the Communist Party of the Philippines with the Government of the Philippines on 24 March, following the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.  The Secretary-General encourages the parties to reach a lasting political solution to this longstanding conflict.  The Secretary-General also hopes that this will serve as an example across the world to silence the guns and come together as we face the global threat of COVID-19.

**Sudan

And in Sudan, on a related note, following the Secretary-General's call for a ceasefire.  With peace talks under way, the Joint Special Representative for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Jeremiah Mamabolo, urged the Sudanese parties to recognize the gravity of the situation and reach a comprehensive peace as soon as possible.  He added the COVID-19 pandemic requires an absolutely united front to save lives, and assures the country of the continued support from the UN-AU mission.

**Cameroon

And in response to questions about the temporary ceasefire announced in Cameroon, I want to say the following:  We welcome the temporary ceasefire announced by the Southern Cameroon Defence Forces on 25 March, that also follows the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.  The Secretary-General calls on other armed groups to do likewise.  He also reiterates his call for renewed dialogue that will address all relevant issues in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon and that will put an end to the violence and human suffering.  He reiterates the readiness of the UN to assist the authorities and the people of Cameroon in this regard.

**Non-Proliferation Treaty

And I was asked by a number of people and a number of times about the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] Review Conference, and I can tell you that the President-designate and the Bureau of the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the NPT are closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the UN Headquarters.  In light of the rapidly evolving situation surrounding the spread of the virus, the President-designate, following consultations with the States Parties and the Bureau, has written to States Parties seeking their agreement to postpone the Review Conference to a later date, as soon as circumstances permit, but no later than April 2021.  We expect a fuller announcement to be made by the end of the week.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

And on education, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today launched a global education coalition to support countries in scaling up their distance learning practices and reaching children and youth who are most at risk.  The UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohamed, expressed the UN’s full commitment to the Coalition, warning that for millions of children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, school closures could mean the loss of a vital safety net of nutrition, protection and emotional support.

**COVID-19 — Schools

And UNICEF also announced today that it will increase support in 145 low‑ and middle‑income countries to help children continue their learning while keeping schools safe.  School closures due to COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the education of more than 80 per cent of students worldwide.

**Afghanistan

And in a statement yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned the attack on a Sikh-Hindu temple in Kabul.

**Biological Weapons

We also, today, wanted to flag that [today] marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological Weapons Convention, the first multilateral treaty to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.  In his message, the Secretary-General said the Convention has made an important contribution towards efforts to eliminate such threats, but he said the international community must remain vigilant.  He called on States parties to urgently update the mechanisms within the Convention for reviewing advances in science and technology, and to work together to improve biosecurity and preparedness so that all countries are equipped to prevent and respond to the possible use of biological weapons.

**Financial Contribution

And we are very happy to report that, despite the ongoing crisis, we have an additional Member State that has paid up in full.  So we thank our friends in Nairobi for paying Kenya’s dues to the regular budget, which brings us up to 74 fully paid-up countries.

**Questions and Answers

All right.  So, I will take your questions if you pass them on to Florencia [Soto Nino].  Okay.  Stand by.  I need my glasses for this.

Is there going to be an outcome document of the G20?

I believe that the G20 did put up a final document.  As you know, the Secretary‑General is an observer and is not a member of the G20.  For his part, he told me this morning that he felt the meeting was an important step in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go for a truly concerted and effective global leadership in response to this pandemic and its impact.

No, there's no… James asked if we can get a video of the SG's remarks in G20.  No, I believe we do not have a video available.  We released the text.

I think I've answered Edie's question about the assessment.

James, I've also answered the question about whether or not he's disappointed.  I've just given you what he thought of the meeting.

Yes, the Secretary‑General has called for an easing of sanctions.  He believed this is very, very important in terms of getting the aid to the people that need it in order to support the health systems in the countries that are under sanctions, whether unilateral or other types of sanctions, and he very much hopes that these sanctions will be waived.  It is clear that, in this pandemic, as in any pandemic, none of us are safe until the whole world has come together and solved this problem.

Iftikhar, how long before the world's poorest start receiving the promises on the UN's relief plan?  We have to… we'll get an update from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] if any pledges or countries… any countries have already pledged money.  But, obviously, the UN part is a $2 billion appeal, is a small part in the resources that will need to be mobilized by the G20 countries and by others to help the story.

Dulcie asked if it's impossible for the UN Security Council VTC [video teleconference] meetings to be live‑streamed.  That is a decision that is solely up to the members of the Security Council and the presidency of the Security Council.  They will have to make that call.

I see what you're saying, James, but I can only tell you, from our end, that, if they want the meeting to be web‑streamed in public, that can be done.

Yes, James, the creaky video conferencing system is a creaky system.  The system is not only servicing this press briefing, it is servicing other meetings that are taking place.  I think, like everyone, whether it's broadcasters, whether it's the UN, we're all testing our systems to the limit, and we're all doing our best.  We, obviously, are looking at other ways we can take audio questions, but at this point, this is the system that we have.  And I do want to thank all the technicians that are working hard from home to try to make this happen.  As you know, tomorrow, there will be a large meeting with the whole of the General Assembly, and that is also being prioritized by our technical colleagues.

Yes, Pam, the SG did participate in the G20 virtual meeting.  I summarized the meetings in the comments at the start of this briefing, and we've also sent you his remarks, which are fairly short.

Does the SG support giving Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan asylum in India?

I think it is important that the asylum regime, the refugee regime, be respected the world over. 

On the Security Council, again, it is their decision.  We have to wait to see what they say.

I think I have tried to answer every question that has come our way.

Dulcie asked, what are the latest numbers of people who can… who have… UN people.

Let me get that figure for you as I pull everything up on my… as of today, there are 78 confirmed cases among UN staff worldwide.

Okay?  We're going to wait a few more seconds, see if there are any more questions coming up.  All right.  I do hope to be able to interact with you live, or at least my audio, at some point.  Take care, and enjoy the rest of the day.

And tomorrow we will aim for the briefing at 1 p.m.  Again, that's at 1 p.m.  to give some time for the Member State briefing to take place in case it runs past noon.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.