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7 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.

**World Health Day

Good afternoon.  Today is actually World Health Day.  And the Secretary‑General dedicated his message this year to all the health-care workers — nurses, midwives, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, doctors, drivers, cleaners, administrators and many others — who work, day and night, to keep us safe.  He said:  “Today, we are more deeply grateful than ever to all of you, as you work, around the clock, putting yourselves at risk, to fight the ravages of this pandemic.”  The Secretary-General stressed that, in these traumatic times, we stand with health-care workers, and he told them:  “You make us proud; you inspire us.  We are indebted to you.”  2020 is also the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, and the Secretary-General also gave special recognition to their expertise and their commitment.

**COVID-19 — Nurses

And a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners says that the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgent need to strengthen the global health workforce, with nurses being on the front line in the battle against the virus.  WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] said that nurses are the backbone of any health system, adding that the new report, entitled “The State of the World’s Nursing 2020”, is a wake-up call to ensure they get the support they need to keep the world healthy.  Today, there are just under 28 million nurses worldwide, with a global shortfall of 5.9 million, with the greatest gaps in Africa, South‑East Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean region and Latin America.  The report estimates that countries experiencing shortages need to increase the total number of nurse graduates by on average 8 per cent per year, along with improved ability to be employed and retained in the health system.  More on WHO’s website.

**Together at Home

And in case you missed it, the announcement yesterday:  On 18 April, WHO and Global Citizen are organizing a special event to celebrate and support health‑care workers.  The event, titled “One World: Together at Home” will be co-hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert and will feature — in addition to stars and musical acts [including Lady Gaga] — real experiences from doctors, nurses and families around the world.  The event will benefit the UN Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO.  Broadcast details are online.

**Peacekeeping

Turning to peacekeeping:  In order to mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19, the Secretary-General has suspended the rotation and deployments of uniformed personnel — individual officers and formed, police and military units — until 30 June.  This decision has been transmitted to all Troop and Police Contributing Countries, as well as to all relevant peace operations.  Our peacekeeping missions are working full time to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  Our priorities are to ensure the COVID-19-free status of incoming uniformed personnel, and mitigate the risk that UN peacekeepers could be a contagion vector and simultaneously maintain our operational capabilities.  A few, limited exceptions may be considered to continue to deliver on the mandate, but only in extenuating circumstances on the basis of strict conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.

**Mali

And continuing on peacekeeping, this morning, during a Security Council meeting on Mali, held in an open videoconference, the head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said 46 COVID-19 cases have now been recorded in Mali, including one in peacekeeping personnel.  Despite these exceptional conditions, the Mission continues to fulfil its mandate and supports the Government’s response to the pandemic, he added.  The rotation of uniformed contingents is suspended until the end of June, although exceptions may be envisaged for the implementation of the mandate, with authorizations on a case-by-case basis and isolation periods to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Special Representative highlighted some positive recent developments in the country, notably the generally peaceful atmosphere that surrounded last week’s legislative elections and respect of a 30 per cent quota for women.  He also pointed out the redeployment of the first reconstituted Units of the Malian Defence and Security Forces in the Northern parts of the country.  With regard to Mali’s Centre region, Mr. Annadif said the mission continues to implement its adaptation plan to better protect civilians there.  But, as violence and insecurity persist in the country, in a separate statement to the press, Mr. Annadif strongly condemned an attack on Malian armed forces that took place [near] Gao yesterday.

**COVID-19 — Uzbekistan

Turning to country-specific examples:  In Uzbekistan, the UN team there is helping the Government to contain the spread of the virus, as well as to address the socioeconomic impacts.  WHO has provided experts to work directly with the Ministry of Health and to support the country’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.  The UN also has provided training on lab diagnostics for medical schools and other academic centres.  The UN is also helping to procure ventilators, test kits and other health supplies, with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) securing protection and detection equipment for maternity wards, shelters for women, and civil society organizations supporting women with disabilities.  We are also helping the Government to address the issue of social protection in light of a significant number of people losing their jobs or being forced to take unpaid leave.

**COVID-19 — Jordan

And in Jordan, the UN team, led by WHO, is also working closely with the Government by supporting the National Preparedness and Response Operational Plan to contain the virus and procure medical equipment, personal protection equipment and diagnostic tests.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working with the Ministry of Education to ensure continued learning for the most vulnerable children, including home learning through TV, online and printed copies in communities with no access to the Internet.  The UN is working with the Government to provide counselling services over the telephone to women, including refugees.  It is also transferring cash to women who had to stop working due to the outbreak, including through the use of online cash disbursement using blockchain technology in refugee camps.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) is also working with the Government to ensure that support to refugees is maintained, including through cash transfers for food and other needs.  And UNDP is supporting medical waste management in Jordanian hospitals to protect patients, medical workers and the general public.

**COVID-19 — Nigeria

Turning to Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, yesterday, in Nigeria, the UN, the European Union and the Government launched a COVID-19 Basket Fund to mobilize additional funds to support efforts to tackle the pandemic.  As of yesterday, Nigeria reported 238 confirmed cases and 5 deaths.  The new Fund, which will be facilitated and implemented by the UN in Nigeria, aims to ensure adequate essential health equipment needed for testing, preparing quarantine and medical care.  It will serve a financing and investment platform for the UN, donors, private sector, foundations, philanthropists and others to channel their financial support.  This new initiative is in addition to the $2 million funding by the UN in Nigeria, and the COVID-19 emergency preparedness and response plan for displaced and vulnerable people in the north-east that was launched last week.

**COVID-19 — East Africa

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is ramping up its efforts to increase capacity to prevent, treat and limit the spread of COVID-19 among refugee communities across the Eastern part, the Horn and Great Lakes region of Africa.  As you know, these regions host some of the largest refugee populations in the world.  Many of UNHCR’s operations in the area have provided refugees with more food and basic relief items, including soap, to reduce the frequency of distributions and the risks posed by queues and large crowds.  UNHCR is also actively engaged with Governments of the region to ensure the inclusion of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people in the national response plans.  You can find more on UNHCR’s website about their support operations.

**Cameroon

Turning to Cameroon, the Secretary-General condemns the double suicide bombing by suspected Boko Haram fighters that took place in Amichidé, in the Far North region of Cameroon on 5 April.  He expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and to the Government and people of Cameroon.  The Secretary-General reiterates the UN’s continued support to the countries of the Lake Chad Basin in their unwavering efforts to address the security, socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges posed by Boko Haram.

**Libya

And in Libya, Yacoub el Hillo, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, said he was appalled to have learned that heavy shelling hit Tripoli’s Al Khadra General Hospital today, injuring at least one health‑care worker and damaging the fully functioning medical facility.  He said that this is a clear violation of international humanitarian law.  Mr. El Hillo said that the repeated calls by the UN and the international community for a cessation of hostilities have only been met with complete disregard and the fighting has intensified.  This is unacceptable at a time when health‑care and health workers are vital in the fight against a global pandemic, he added.  He said that if Libya is to have any chance against COVID-19, the ongoing conflict must come to an immediate halt.

**Rwanda

And lastly, I want to flag that, due to COVID-19, the traditional commemoration meeting of the General Assembly to mark the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda has been postponed.  However, the public is invited to reflect on 7 April on one of the darkest chapters in human history, when more than 1 million people — overwhelmingly Tutsi, but also moderate Hutus, Twa and others who opposed the genocide — were systematically killed in less than three months, and to reflect on the suffering of those who survived.

In his message, the Secretary-General underscored that, in this Day of Reflection, we must “honour those who were killed and we gain inspiration from the capacity of those who survived for reconciliation and restoration.  We must never again let such atrocities occur.”  He also stressed that “only by recognizing that we are all one human family sharing the same planet will we be able to rise to the many global challenges that confront us — from COVID-19 to climate change”.

I will now take your questions, but happy to report that, if all goes well, tomorrow, we will be able to test an interactive platform where I'll be able to actually take your questions directly through the audio/visual platform, only if you are disciplined about your mics being muted.  All right.  Let's go to the call‑in line and see what we have.

**Questions and Answers

What is the reaction from the Secretary‑General, Edie asks, to… by the appeal, the 165 prominent world leaders, including his predecessors, to the G20 to coordinate the fight against COVID‑19 and raise $200 billion?

We very much welcome this call.  I think it is important that all the voices that can be raised with the same message to push the G20 countries to show the greatest level possible of solidarity at this time of need is definitely welcomed.

Dulcie asks, is the Secretary‑General briefing the Council in its closed VTC meeting on Thursday?

Yes, he will be briefing, and we will try to do whatever we can to make his remarks available.

Can the Secretary‑General do a virtual stakeout on Thursday?

I don't think we'll be able to do it Thursday afternoon.  We are looking at doing other stakeouts probably early next week.  We're very keen to continue the interactions between the Secretary‑General and yourselves, even in this time of physical separation.

Some US experts, Mr. Bays asks, including Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, are calling for wet markets in China and similar wildlife markets to be closed.

I think these are medical questions that should be addressed by the medical community.  It is clear that we should take whatever public health measures we can take in order to help stop the spread of the virus, whether it's this one or others.

On peacekeeping, given his announcement of freezing rotation, is the SG concerned that some troop‑contributing countries may unilaterally decide to bring their troops home?

We have been working closely, led by Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix, with the troop contributors, the police contributors.  I think everyone understands that we're all in this together.  We… yesterday, in this… Mr. Lacroix briefed the C34.  I think he was given support for this initiative, and we very, very much hope that Member States will work with us.  I think no one wants to see UN peacekeeping operations being a vector, as I said, for the spread of COVID‑19.  And I think countries that are bringing their troops home also want to make sure they're safe, so it's important that there are quarantine measures taken in.

Abdelhamid:  Does the SG believe that unilateralism is partially responsible for the catastrophe the world is facing?

Look, I think there will be time enough for assessment as what started this.  What we do know now is that this is a time for coordinated action.  This is a time for multilateralism, and this is the message the Secretary‑General has been doing.

All right, Abdelhamid.  You had another question.  What has Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov been doing on a daily basis dealing with people under occupation, under siege, disastrous consequences?

I mean, Mr. Mladenov has been doing like we've all been doing, which is working from home.  It is… he has also been… he and the whole UN system there has been trying to facilitate and has been working positively… working between the Israelis and the Palestinian authorities to support the mitigation measures of COVID‑19 in the area.

And I'm told by Florencia [Soto Nino] that, in fact, the head of the Convention on Biodiversity, Elizabeth Mrema, said in her Health Day message that a lot of animal markets, also known as wet markets, are an important risk factor for disease spread, as is the global wildlife trade.  Measures taken by countries to reduce the number of wildlife animals in food markets have the potential to significantly reduce the risk of future diseases.  However, these markets also sustain the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on wild meat as a critical source of food.  So, all these things need to be studied and also working in how to eliminate the risk of future zoonotic spillover, which, as far as I understand, means the spread of viruses from animal to humans and may even, under some conditions, generate new opportunities for diseases to emerge.

I'm getting… I see a number of questions, notably from Sherwin and from Reuters, which I assume being Michelle, on WHO and the criticism it faced.

I mean, for the Secretary‑General, it is clear that WHO, under the leadership of Dr. Tedros, has done tremendous work on COVID‑19, in supporting countries with millions of pieces of equipment being shipped out, on helping countries with training, on providing global guidelines.  WHO is showing the strength of the international health system.  And, also, if you look back recently, in fact, what is going on, not being reported on that much given the COVID‑19 spread, is the tremendous work WHO did in fighting Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, putting its staff in the front lines.  And we have seen great success in the way the WHO‑led efforts to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and surrounding countries has had under the leadership of Dr. Tedros.

Let's see if there are any more questions from the call‑in line.  Majeed:  How concerned is the SG about the US and Iran inching towards confrontation in Iraq if the US [redeploys]?

The Secretary‑General's call for a global ceasefire and a global lowering of tensions is exactly that.  It's a global call.  We want countries to focus on working together as one global community in fighting the spread of COVID‑19.

Mr. Iftikhar Ali, from Pakistan:  UN peacekeeping forces and hot spots around the world usually have medical units.  Are UN doctors, nurses…?

Yes, we are… our medical facilities are helping out in whatever way they can, first of all, on mitigating the risks, making sure that UN operations are doing whatever they can to help mitigate the risk and working with local officials.

Betul:  UN Biodiversity… oh, okay.  I think I answered that.  The UN Biodiversity Convention acting chief called a global ban on wet markets.

Elizabeth Mrema, the acting head, is speaking in her own capacity.  This is a very important point that she raised, and as I said earlier, we are leaving all this to those who are the experts, but it is very important that we do whatever we can to stop the spread of the virus and future zoonotic spillovers.

Benno from the German Press Agency:  Hi, Steph.  Does the UN see a difference due to corona crisis in the payment of membership fees to the country?

I think, as we flagged on Friday and again yesterday, we are seeing a bit… we're a bit behind in the payments that we had last year.  The COVID‑19 crisis has, obviously, forced the UN to spend a bit more money in certain areas; we're saving in others.  We know that some Member States have had issues in terms of getting governments or cabinet or parliaments to meet to approve budgets.  We understand that, and we're working very closely with Member States.  But, as the Sec… you know, as… the financial situation of the UN is, indeed, challenging at this point.

Dulcie, yes, all peacekeeping troop rotations are frozen until 30 June.  That is, indeed, what I said, or at least that's what I hope I said.

I think I've tried to answer every question.

Abdelhamid, very kindly, asked me if I want a cup of coffee.

No, I'm already highly over‑caffeinated, so more coffee would not be good.  That's it.  Thank you very much, and we hope to have some live interaction with you all tomorrow.  Take care.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.