9 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.


Good afternoon.  Today the Secretary-General released a policy brief which looks at how women and girls have been impacted by the [COVID-19] pandemic.

In a video message, he said that while mortality rates from COVID-19 are higher for men, the pandemic is having devastating social and economic consequences for women, and he warned that it could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights.

“Progress lost takes years to regain.  Teenage girls out of school may never return,” Mr Guterres said.

The brief shows that nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and being at greater risk of falling into poverty.  In addition, many women are now trapped at home with domestic abusers and are struggling to get access to support services.

The Secretary-General urged Governments to put women and girls at the centre of their recovery efforts and he called for measures to protect and stimulate the economy that target women, including cash transfers, credits and loans, and he added that unpaid care work must also be recognized and valued as a vital contribution to the economy.

“Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to getting through this pandemic together, to recovering faster, and to building a better future for everyone,” he said.

And while most of us can’t see the UN building as we are working from home, I want to say that as of Monday, the UN flag will be at half-mast.  This is a gesture of solidarity with New York, as the Government advises that all flags should be flown at half-mast while the state is under a pause order.

**Security Council

Turning to the Security Council:  The Secretary-General is briefing the Council this afternoon, in a closed remote session, on the impact of COVID-19 and on the issues that “fall under the UN Security Council mandate” as described by the presidency.

The Secretary-General will update on his appeal for a global cease fire and the impact of the pandemic on peacekeeping operations, special political missions and on the UN’s humanitarian response.


Turning to Yemen: You saw that last night the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the “Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen”, of a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen.  This can help to advance efforts towards peace as well as the country’s response to the pandemic.

The Secretary-General now calls upon the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah to follow through on their commitment to immediately cease hostilities.  He also calls on the Government and the Houthis to engage with each other, in good faith and without preconditions, in negotiations facilitated by his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths.

Only through dialogue will the parties be able to agree on a mechanism for sustaining a nation-wide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic confidence-building measures and to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, and the resumption of the political process to reach a comprehensive settlement to end the conflict. 

Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has been mediating between the parties to reach agreements on a nation-wide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures that will bring tangible relief to the people of Yemen, and the resumption of the political process to comprehensively end this war.  The Special Envoy hopes and expects that the Coalition’s ceasefire announcement will create a conducive environment for the parties to conclude these agreements in the very near future.

**WHO — 100 Days

And today marks 100 days since the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of the first cases of COVID-19.  Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] said this today during a briefing to Member States.

He added that today, WHO is publishing a technical strategy update for the next phase of the response.  This update addresses the circumstances in lower- and middle-income countries and communities with weaker health systems and infrastructure, and especially in countries affected by conflict and for displaced people. 

This will form the basis of the second Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, expected to be released in the coming days.  The plan will estimate the resources needed to implement national and international strategies during the next phase of this response. 

These documents will be available of WHO’s website.


And in a statement released today, the leaders of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), the World Health Organization, UN-Women and the Special Representatives working on violence against children and several civil society organizations, jointly called on Governments, the international community and leaders in every sector to urgently respond with a united effort to protect children against COVID-19.

The pandemic is exposing children to increased risk of violence — including maltreatment, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. 

They said a collective response must include maintaining essential health and social services; providing child protection case management, emergency alternative care arrangements; as well as ensuring social protection for the most vulnerable children and households.  The full statement is online.


And a new study published today by the United Nations University warned that the economic fallout from the pandemic could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people.  That is 8 per cent of the human population.  This would be the first time that poverty has increased globally since 1990.

The authors of the study said that a setback of this size would reverse a decade of global progress on poverty reduction.

The study further shows that the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, and in particular the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) on no poverty and zero hunger, is under considerable threat.  You can find more about this online.

**Sustainable Development

And a new report from the United Nations-led Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development says that Governments must take immediate steps to prevent a potentially devastating debt crisis and address the economic and financial havoc wrought by COVID-19. 

The report outlines measures to address the impact of the unfolding global recession and financial turmoil, especially in the world’s poorest countries.  Its recommendations are based on joint research and analysis from the UN System, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, and more than 60 UN agencies and international institutions.

Even before this outbreak, one in five countries was likely to see per capita incomes stagnate or decline in 2020.  Now, billions more people are likely to be affected as Governments struggle to cope with this pandemic.

**COVID-19/Human Rights

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today said COVID-19 poses a far-reaching threat to human rights.

She added that the universality of the threat from this virus provides the most compelling argument there has ever been for universal and affordable access to health care.  Actions to upgrade public health care, in every country, are especially urgent, as well as the protection of health-workers and their adequate remuneration. 

Ms. Bachelet also called for urgent action to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on women, and on vulnerable groups; to absorb the economic and social shocks of this epidemic, and to minimize the expansion of inequalities.  Her full remarks are available on her website. 

**COVID-19/Civil Rights

And on a related note, UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) today said that it is deeply concerned by reports that the pandemic is being used as an excuse to target marginalised and vulnerable populations, restrict civil society space and increase police powers.

The agency emphasized that while some rights may be limited during an emergency in order to protect public health and safety, such restrictions must be for a legitimate purpose, in this case; and they give a number of examples, notably from Hungary and Uganda. 


Turning to Lebanon:  The UN agencies in Lebanon are fully engaged in assisting Lebanon and the Lebanese people in responding to the unfolding health crisis.  Joining hands with local partners, including governmental entities and civil society, the UN is working on preventing and containing the transmission of the virus and avoiding an overstretching of the health system, as well as responding to rising socioeconomic challenges generated by economic and financial crisis now exacerbated by the health emergency.

At the health level, the UN helped to scale up Lebanese Ministry of Public Health’s readiness and response operations — including the rapid identification, diagnosis and management of cases, identification and follow-up of contacts when feasible, through effective coordination of national partners and stakeholders.


And, from Afghanistan, the World Health Organization tells us that they are supporting Government efforts to combat the pandemic.  Seven testing facilities have been installed in five provinces with plans to expand to 15 across the country this month.  About 350 WHO surveillance staff, 1,000 surveillance focal points, and 34,000 surveillance volunteers who were working with the polio campaign are now supporting efforts to enhance the surveillance systems and early detection of COVID-19 within health facilities, the private sector and local communities.

We are working with our humanitarian partners and are also offering 24,000 non-food kits, 1,000 tents, 100 refugee housing units and thermal blankets for the countrywide health response.

The Humanitarian Plan for Afghanistan aims to reach 6 million people with life-saving assistance over the next three months (Afghanistan currently has 444 cases of the virus, and 15 related deaths).


In Kenya, the UN and our partners, along with the Government, today launched a flash appeal requesting $267.5 million to respond to the most immediate and critical needs of 10.1 million people.

The funds will be used to support public health responses to contain the spread of COVID-19 and provide targeted humanitarian assistance and protection to the most vulnerable and at-risk communities.  The UN team will also redirect $45 million [from the UN Development Assistance Framework/UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework] to support the response to the COVID-19.

In addition, the UN has also deployed over 70 staff and volunteers to assist the Government.


And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that it is continuing its efforts to contain the desert locust upsurge in East Africa despite restrictions on the movement of personnel and equipment as a result of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

FAO is increasing national efforts by providing support for surveillance as well as aerial and ground spraying being conducted in 10 affected countries.  So far more than 240,000 hectares have been treated with chemical pesticides or biopesticides across the region.

But FAO warns the biggest challenge at the moment is the supply of pesticides, as global air freight has been reduced significantly due to the pandemic.

The agency has also intensified remote data collection through a mobile application and working with civil society and grassroot organizations who are providing information from remote locations — especially in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.

FAO recently scaled up its desert locust appeal to $153.2 million, and so far, $111.1 million has been pledged or received.

**Mediterranean Crossings

And in other news, the UN migration agency (IOM) reports that at least six boats, with about 500 people on board, have left the coasts of Libya since the beginning of the month.

While many countries have tightened control at their borders in an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic, it is crucial that such measures be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, in line with international law, and prioritizes the protection of the most vulnerable people.

All right.  I think I have spoken enough.  Let's see…  let me see what…  we go to our questions.  Bear with me. 

All right.  I'm having a problem logging in here.  Bear with me two seconds. 

I'm going to open up the mic.  I'm having trouble connecting to the WhatsApp so… 

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  First question, Philippe Rater, AFP

QuestionBonjour, Stéphane.  Three very quick question.  First, is the monthly lunch between the SG and Security Council…  is it now virtual?

Second question, did the Secretary‑General receive the credentials from the new [inaudible]… 

Spokesman:  I think the first question, the…  go ahead.  The…  repeat the first question, please.  Philippe?  Can you repeat the first question?  All right.  We'll try to come back to you.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  The first question is monthly luncheon [inaudible]… 

Spokesman:  Go ahead. 

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  The monthly lunch of the Security Council.  Yes.  You're asking about the monthly lunch of the Security Council and the Secretary‑General?

Question:  Is he doing this virtual…?

Spokesman:  Yes, I took a question.  I don't know if they'll be eating lunch in front of computer screens, but we'll find out. 

Your second question?

Question:  Did the Secretary‑General received a credential from the Tunisian…  the new Tunisian Ambassador?

Spokesman:  I don't think that has been scheduled yet, but I will find out. 

And your third question? Philippe, did you have another question?

Question:  The third question…

Spokesman:  All right.  Let's see…  Abdelhamid…  Go ahead. 

Question:  Of the masks given to…

Question:  Yes, thank you.  I put my question in writing, but I will repeat it.  The Houthis came up yesterday with a comprehensive peace plan.  They said they submitted it to the Secretary‑General.  First, can you confirm that the SG had received this peace proposal?

The second, can you share with us some elements of this peace proposal?  And, if the SG received this peace proposal, the…  the…  does the SG have any comment on this?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not able to confirm it.  We can check with Mr.  Griffiths' office if it has gone through them, and I will check and get back to you.  [He later noted that Mr. Griffiths had shared his ideas on recent peace proposals on his website:]


Question:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Do you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead. 

Question:  Right.  One question is, do we know where New York or Mayor de Blasio distributed the facial masks that the SG had donated?

And, secondly — I think you might have answered it — I wonder if there are other examples of restrictions of freedom and misuses of emergency measures to erode human rights or movement or anything.

Spokesman:  Unfortunately, we…  that has…

Question:  I can't…

Spokesman:  The misuse of emergency measures is something we…  the misuse of measures…  of restriction measures against human rights is something we have seen in way too many countries, but our human rights colleagues can give you examples. 

As for where the masks went, we were told they would be given to front‑line workers in New York City hospitals, and that's where they went.  Exactly which hospitals they went to, I would advise you to check with the City of New York.


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have two questions.  AP is reporting that some senior Houthis think the ceasefire initiative is a ploy.  Can you tell us what Martin Griffiths is doing to try and ensure that this two‑week ceasefire actually becomes a ceasefire for all the parties?

And, secondly, will we be getting a copy of the Secretary‑General's remarks to the Security Council this afternoon?

Spokesman:  On your second question, we will know that after the meeting is over.  We will do our best.

On your first question, the Secretary‑General very much welcomed the announcement made by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Coalition.  It was clear from the Saudi announcement that this was made in response to the Secretary‑General's own call for a global ceasefire.  Mr. Griffiths is meeting with all the parties involved to seize this opportunity, to make sure that this is not a wasted opportunity, and he will be meeting and is in discussion with all the relevant parties. 

Pam, Pam Falk.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  On the SG's comments yesterday about World Health Organization and that the time is better later to Monday morning quarterback, see lessons learned, have you gotten any response from the White House?  You said yesterday you have spoken…  he has spoken with some Administration officials.  Can you name them?  And what's the latest on the threat to de‑fund WHO? Thanks.

Spokesman:  I mean, listen, I think…  sorry.  I think we were very clear in expressing the Secretary‑General's position yesterday, that this is a time to support WHO.  WHO is vital to our global response to fighting this pandemic.  There will be a time to look back at how the international community and every actor, whether national or international, reacted, but this is not the time.  And I think that was the message that we heard yesterday, as well, from Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo. 

As for issues of funding, that's a question you have to raise with the United…  US Administration and WHO.  As you know, the World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations with its own governing body, its own funding mechanism.  The money for WHO does not go through the Secretariat or the Secretary‑General, and the head of WHO is elected by the member States of the World Health Assembly.  It is not a process that goes through the Secretary‑General in any way.  Over. 

James Bays?

Question:  Just a…  wait.  Just as a follow‑up.  Who…  has he spoken…  has the SG spoken with Pompeo or anybody else in particular in recent days?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's main point of contact is the US Permanent Representative, Kelly Craft. 

James Bays?

Question:  And has he spoken with her? Has he spoken with her in recent days?

Spokesman:  That's what I just said. 

James Bays.  Yes, he has.  James Bays?  James Bays, Al Jazeera. 

All right.  Let's try Michelle Nichols, Reuters.  Michelle Nichols, Reuters?

By the way, I have just been told that the Tunisian Ambassador has deposited his credentials.  This was done through an electronic portal where the actual letter of credentials was uploaded.  There will be a face‑to‑face meeting with the Secretary‑General at a later date, but the credentials have been received, and he is officially the Permanent Representative of Tunisia.

Let's try James Bays or Michelle Nichols or Dulcie. 

Okay.  Let's see if we can get questions a different way. 

All right.  I'm going to try to get the questions in writing.  Okay.  Michelle:  Would the Secretary‑General like to see the UN resolution on…  would the Secretary‑General like to see the Security Council adopt a resolution on COVID?

As I always say, the Security Council is the master of its domain.  They will decide what to do.  What is clear is that the international community can only benefit from having a strong united voice from the Security Council, from the General Assembly, or Member States as a whole, in dealing with this global pandemic.

James Bays.  Well, I think I sort of answered… 

Okay.  Why can't I…  Dulcie asks, why can't I commit to making the Secretary‑General's remarks public — to the Security Council?

I can't commit because it is closed consultations, and we don't usually release the remarks of closed consultations.  What I can commit is doing my best to see if I can get you a copy of those remarks. 

Will he be talking about sanctions?

I…  what is clear…  I don't…  I haven't seen the latest version of the text.  What is clear is that the Secretary‑General has already spoken very forcefully and publicly about the need to remove sanctions that hamper the global public health response.

James Bays is saying that Houthis are saying that the ceasefire is already breached. 

I have to check with Martin Griffiths.  We're unable to get…  I'm not able to get real‑time updates from them, but it is…  as is often the case, when a ceasefire is announced, it sometimes does take a bit longer than expected for it to come into place.

Dulcie says, these are extraordinary times, and this is a pandemic. 

Yes, I know it's extraordinary times.  I know it's a pandemic.  We have…  we will be making the Secretary‑General available to you at some point next week again for a virtual press conference.  We're trying, doing our best to stay as transparent as possible, using whatever electronic measures that we can use.  That being said, there remains rules of procedure by the Security Council and others that need to be respected.

Majeed.  Majeed, please, from Rudaw…

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Go ahead, yes, I can hear you.  Nice to hear you.

Question:  Thank you.  Same.  Stéphane, you just talked about that SG thinks there should be a united response by international community.  I wanted to ask you more in term of specifics of that, the SG's expectation.  Like, what does he thinks the international community, especially China, US and others, what does he think they should agree on other than the global ceasefire?  Right now, what other… 

Spokesman:  It's a…  what we need to see — and I think the Secretary‑General made it very clear in his letter to the G20 — is coordinated responses at the international level, coordinated solidarity to those country…  middle‑income, lower‑income countries that do not have the capacity, whether financial for financial packages or have weak health‑care systems, to show solidarity towards those countries in a coordinated manner.  We will not beat this pandemic unless the weakest of our health systems is strong enough to withstand an onslaught of the virus.

Question:  Just one follow‑up on that, Stéphane.  Does the…  should we expect the UN to put a price tag on that, says this is how many trillion dollars is needed from their…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General launched the $2 billion solidarity fund.  Obviously…  and I think a lot of that is outlined in his letter. 

James Bays:  Does the moral weight of a Security Council resolution…?

I think a strong united voice from the Member States, from the Security Council would obviously strengthen the call for a global ceasefire.

All right.  Asking Florencia [Soto Nino], any more questions?

On the…  Michelle Nichols asked about the fund.  How much money is left, is in…

Let me see if I have those numbers.  Otherwise, they are published on the website, but bear with me two seconds. 

The…  for the $2 billion humanitarian fund, as of 7 April, there was $396.5 million in very generous donor funding made available.  For the COVID Trust Fund, the multi-partner Trust Fund for response and recovery, we understand that there is money in the pipeline, though it has not been officially received. 

James Bays is still slightly obsessed with the escalators.  I was in the building.  They were not running.  I think the Secretary‑General, as we said on Friday, alerted Member States to the very difficult financial situation.  I understand that there is some money coming in.  We've been told by some of the big…  some big donors…  big Member States.  We hope to have an update for you on that on Monday.

And on that note, just a reminder that we are closed for Good Friday tomorrow.  We will resume the briefings in this way on Monday and try to hear your voices as much as possible. 

And we are trying to get the Secretary‑General in front of you, at least virtually, at some point in the middle of next week. 

On that note, wishing you all a very pleasant and safe long weekend.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.