1 April 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.

**COVID-19 — Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  As you know, yesterday the Secretary-General launched a report on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, noting that the world is facing an unprecedented test and that this is the moment of truth.  With societies in turmoil and economies in a nose-dive, the Secretary-General stressed that we must respond decisively, innovatively and together to suppress the spread of the virus and address the socioeconomic devastation that it is causing in all regions.

And today in a new report, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which is its regular World Economic Prospect report, the Department warns that the global economy could shrink by almost 1 per cent this year, that’s 0.9 per cent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The report notes that country lockdowns in Europe and North America have hit the service, hospitality and transportation sectors very hard, and collectively they account for more than a quarter of all jobs in those economies.  The report goes on to warn that the effects of the restrictions will soon spill over to development countries and could also lead to a significant contraction of global manufacturing, disrupting global supply chains.  Furthermore, the report says that as the pandemic worsens, economic anxiety and inequality will increase even in high-income countries.  You can read the full report online.

**COVID-19 — Humanitarian Response

An update on the humanitarian response plan.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that as of yesterday, they have provided a combined $78.8 million to COVID-19 responses.  This includes $75 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), with the rest coming from country-based pooled funds.  So far, programmes in 15 countries have been supported through these funds and additional countries are being identified under the global CERF allocation of $60 million — one of the largest ever made — to kick-start the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan.  The allocations prioritize the most vulnerable people, including the elderly and people with disabilities, and will save lives by scaling up the readiness and response, limiting the further spread of the virus and mitigating the impacts of the pandemic.  We also have an update on pledges made following last week’s launch of the Response Plan.

As of today, close to $374 million in generous donor funds has been made available.  Funding the plan will save lives and equip humanitarian agencies and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to treat the sick while protecting health‑care workers and also help secure a logistics backbone for continued delivery of aid and to people caught up in the world’s humanitarian crises.  Looking around the UN system at what other agencies across the system are doing…

**COVID-19 — International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today said it is sending a first batch of equipment to more than 40 countries to help them use nuclear‑derived technology to rapidly detect COVID-19.  Dozens of labs in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean will receive diagnostic machines and other machines to speed up national testing, which is crucial in containing the outbreak.  They will also receive biosafety supplies, such as personal protection equipment and lab cabinets for the safe analysis of collected samples.  Further deliveries of equipment to the growing number of countries seeking assistance are expected in the coming weeks.  More on the IAEA’s website.

**COVID-19 — World Meteorological Organization

And the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said it is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, as well as atmospheric and climate monitoring.  Large parts of the observing system are either partly or fully automated.  They are therefore expected to continue functioning without a significant degradation for several weeks.  But, if the pandemic lasts more than a few weeks, WMO said that the missing repair, maintenance and supply work, and missing redeployments will become of increasing concern.  Meanwhile, some parts of the observing system are already being impacted.  Most notably the significant decrease in air traffic has had an impact as commercial airliners contribute to the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay programme, which uses onboard sensors on planes, as well as computers and communications systems to collect, process, format and transmit weather observations to ground stations via satellite or radio links.  More on the WMO website.

**COVID-19 — Access to Health Services

And also [yesterday], four UN entities — the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) — issued a joint statement calling on Governments around the world to ensure equal access to health services for refugees, migrants and stateless people, adding that they should be fully included in national responses to COVID-19, including prevention, treatment and testing.  This crisis demands a coherent, effective international approach that leaves no one behind, they said.  Migrants and refugees are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma and discrimination, particularly when they are undocumented.  Protecting the rights and the health of all people will be key to help control the spread of the virus, they said in the statement.

**COVID-19 — Refugees

And also, staying on the topic of refugees, UNHCR has laid out a series of measures that are being taken in its field operations to help respond to the virus and prevent further spread.  The agency warned that, although the number of reported and confirmed cases of infection among refugees remains low, over 80 per cent of the world’s refugee population and nearly all the internally displaced people live in low- to middle-income countries, many of which have weaker health systems, water and sanitation systems and need urgent support.  The agency has tailored programmes in Brazil, Jordan, Mexico, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh and Greece.  These programmes involve distribution of hygiene kits and temperature sensors and screening facilities, among other projects.  UNHCR is also working with UN partners to find solutions to logistical challenges resulting from disrupted manufacturing capacity, as well as border closures.

**COVID-19 — Libya

Just taking a look at a few country-specific cases:  In Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that eight cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, as of yesterday.  The ongoing clashes and the restrictive measures in the country due to the pandemic are hampering humanitarian access.  Agencies have reported not being able to dispatch trucks to deliver assistance over long distances because of the curfews.  Many programmes, including those in the 2020 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan, are either being suspended, delayed or reduced.  The Office has also warned that Libya is at high risk of the virus spreading, given its levels of insecurity, weak health system and high numbers of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

**COVID-19 — Nigeria

And in Nigeria, the UN team there has mobilized $2 million to procure essential medical supplies.  The UN is supporting the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) to procure 1 million test kits.  We are also helping to mitigate the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 on Nigeria and are working with the World Bank and key donors to support the Government and the people.

**COVID-19 — Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) said yesterday they helped free 38 civilians, who had been abducted by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group in the vicinity of Mayi Moya, just 40 kilometres north of Beni.  This happened while the peacekeepers had deployed reinforcements to support the Congolese Armed Forces in an area under attack by the ADF.  The civilians, including women and children, had been abducted by the ADF from different locations in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces.  They were safely transferred to a Congolese Army base.  As we have mentioned in the last few days, while the Mission takes all necessary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it remains fully committed the core of its mandate, the protection of civilians, in support of the Congolese security forces.

**COVID-19 — Venezuela

Turning to Venezuela and Latin America, the joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, Eduardo Stein, today said that, while COVID-19 has brought many aspects of life to a standstill, the humanitarian implications of this crisis have not ceased.  He urged the international community to boost its support for humanitarian, protection and integration programmes, on which the lives and welfare of millions of people depend, including host communities.  Mr. Stein added that the current global public health emergency has compounded an already desperate situation for many refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their hosts and funding to support them is urgently needed.  The UN continues to work with national and local authorities to address the new challenges brought by the COVID-19 and is delivering basic support to those Venezuelan refugees and migrants.


And turning to Yemen, the Head of the UN Mission in Support of the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA), Lt. Gen. [Abhijit] Guha, has expressed his grave concern about the increasing tensions in the Hudaydah area.  Welcoming the support both parties have pledged to the UN Secretary General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire, General Guha urged the parties to quote “silence the guns, stop the artillery, and end the airstrikes”.  In light of the pandemic, General Guha said that it is ever more important to adhere to the ceasefire in Hudaydah to protect the women and children in the governorate from further hardship and suffering.  Meanwhile, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, met with the Yemeni women’s Technical Advisory Group yesterday in a video conference.  During the meeting, Mr.  Griffiths consulted with the group’s members on how to resume the political process as soon as possible to end the war.


And turning to Somalia: Of the 19 countries on the agenda of the UN Office for Children and Armed Conflict, boys and girls in Somalia have experienced among the highest levels of violence.  A new report by Virginia Gamba paints a bleak picture, with close to 15,000 UN-verified violations committed against children between 2016 and 2019.  That includes cases of recruitment and use, abduction of children and sexual violence exceeding those verified in other countries.  The full report is online.


And from Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that the tally of results for the first round of legislative elections held last Sunday is ongoing.  The decision to hold the elections was one of the key outcomes of the national dialogue held in December 2019.  The UN peacekeepers and the mission provided logistical and operational support in preparation for the elections, and secured polling and election sites on polling day.  As we mentioned earlier, the opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, abducted last week while campaigning in Timbuktu, remains missing.  The UN is providing support to Malian authorities in their efforts to locate him.

**Press Briefing Today

At 1:30 p.m., there will be a virtual press briefing by Ambassador José Singer Weisinger, Special Envoy of the Dominican Republic to the UN Security Council and President of the Security Council for the month of April.  He will, of course, brief on the Council’s programme of work for April.

**Financial Contributions

I am delighted to welcome not one, but two, Member States who have paid their regular budget dues in full.  Our thanks go to Algeria and Kazakhstan, which brings us up to a total number of 77.  So, I will now look to take some of your questions.  All right.  Bear with me two seconds.

**Questions and Answers

So, from Amanda, the UN is reportedly working with the company Tencent to provide video conference tools for UN75.

I do not know, and I will check on that.  [He later confirmed that it had.]

Did the Secretary‑General take the decision to extend the work from home, expiring 12 April?

Yes.  It has… the Secretary‑General has extended that for another few more weeks.  And I think others… all right.  Any other questions? Oh, hold on.  Bear with me two seconds.  I think I'm getting some by other…

Pamela asked how the two different funds that the Secretary‑General has appealed to differentiate.

One is an immediate humanitarian fund, and the other one, a multi‑donor trust fund, is from… more focused on middle‑income countries and economic recovery and as a way of cushioning the hit that will come from COVID‑19.

Philippe, I'm trying to get an exact date, if you bear with me two seconds and I will tell you.  I'm just… the telecommuting arrangements have been extended till 30 April.

All right.  I understand a number of you are having problems logging in or answering questions.  We will work on that with our technical colleagues, and we hope to have that fixed as soon as possible.

I'm seeing Florencia type in one more.

Okay.  Evelyn, you've asked for updates on Africa.

I think I've given you some, and we will share where there are other country… we'll share others to you.

And I really apologize for the technical problems.  We will try to sort them out.

Thank you, all, and see you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.