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15 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 Organization

Good afternoon, in a statement issued last night, the Secretary-General reiterated his belief that the World Health Organization (WHO) must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID‑19.  He also made clear once more that, once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis.  But, now is not that time.  And as it is not that time, it is also not the time to reduce the resources for the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization that is working in the fight against the virus.  As he said before, now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.

**Africa Group

As part of the Secretary-General's regular briefings with groups of Member States, he has met with the Africa Group today, telling them that the current crisis over the pandemic has wide-ranging implications, and that the United Nations and African countries are working together across many challenges and concerns at this time.

**COVID-19 — Children’s Report

And tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be launching a report on the impact of the pandemic on children.  We expect the report to be shared with you under embargo today.  I had considered the possibility of a planned press briefing tomorrow, but it is a bit premature.  So, that will probably take place next week and as soon as I have details, I will share them with you.

**Libya

Turning to Libya:  The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is alarmed by the continuing escalation of violence in Libya, particularly by the intensification of fighting in the past few days, resulting in civilian casualties and risking new waves of displacement.  The UN Mission notes with grave concern reports of attacks on civilians and allegations of human rights violations in western coastal towns recently seized by the Government of National Accord forces.  The Mission also condemns the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces indiscriminate bombardment of Tripoli with rockets, of which many have landed on civilian neighbourhoods, resulting in casualties.

UNSMIL warns that acts of revenge will further escalate the conflict, and lead to a cycle of revenge that threatens the social fabric in Libya.  The Mission calls on parties to the conflict to de-escalate, curb incitement and immediately respect the repeated calls by the Secretary-General and international partners for a humanitarian pause.  Libya has reported 35 COVID-19 cases and 1 death and is at high risk of further spread due to the protracted conflict, ongoing insecurity and of course, a weak health system.  Meanwhile, following the incident of an armed group shutting off water for a week affecting more than 2 million people, water is now gradually returning to Tripoli and other parts of the western region.

**COVID-19 — Children

A number of UN agencies — including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, as well as partners, today said that millions of children are at increased risk of harm as their lives move increasingly online during the lockdown during the pandemic.  More than 1.5 billion children and young people have been affected by school closures worldwide and many of these students are now taking classes and socializing online.  Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming and may also expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as greater risk of cyberbullying.  A new technical note urges Governments, ICT [information and communication technology] industries, educators and parents to be alert, to take urgent measures to mitigate potential risks, and ensure children’s online experiences are safe and positive during COVID-19.

**COVID-19 — Africa/Latin America

And our colleagues at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs today cautioned in a new policy brief that many commodity-dependent economies in Africa and Latin America will likely face an economic crisis before they are directly hit by COVID-19, which will further limit their ability to handle a health crisis.  The new brief warns that action is needed now to avert a full-blown debt crisis, as these economies are in a significantly tighter fiscal position today than they were in 2009 when they were hit by the global financial crisis, making it very difficult for them to borrow externally and finance large fiscal stimulus.  It stresses that the international community should help highly indebted commodity exporters to reduce the likelihood of a debt crisis through forbearance and stand‑stills.  The full brief is on the Department’s website.

**COVID-19 — Latin America

A note from the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who today urged countries in Latin America, and elsewhere in the world, to open up their borders to their own nationals stranded abroad, many of them with little or no access to healthcare.  This comes in response to a weeks-long impasse that developed on the Bolivia-Chile border last month, when Bolivia closed it borders and left many of its own nationals who were working abroad without the possibility of returning to their own country.  Ms. Bachelet said that, under international law, everyone has the right to return to their home, even during a pandemic, and called on States to do all they can to ensure the safe, dignified and voluntary return, as well as sustainable reintegration of their own nationals.  She also welcomed the cooperation and steps taken by Chile and Bolivia to end the impasse.  The UN has been assisting the local authorities in Chile to provide basic supplies and services for the returning migrants, as well as assessing their needs and promoting their protection.

**COVID-19 — India

And from India, the World Health Organization said it will work with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to leverage the strategies that helped the country win its war against polio into the response to COVID-19 outbreak.  India eliminated polio in 2014.  WHO’s national polio surveillance network will be engaged to strengthen COVID-19 surveillance and WHO field staff will continue to support immunization and elimination of tuberculosis and other diseases.

**COVID-19 — Myanmar

And our humanitarian colleagues tell us that our UN staff in Myanmar, together with national and international partners, is supporting health authorities and scaling up efforts to prevent and control the outbreak of COVID-19 and improve access to health care in humanitarian settings.  The UN is focusing on vulnerable communities and front‑line health workers.  Myanmar’s Humanitarian Fund has mobilized the first reserve allocation of $2 million to support a coordinated response for displaced people and other vulnerable crisis-affected people in Chin, Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Kayin States.  The UN team in Myanmar, together with national authorities, have also mobilized funds to procure necessary medical equipment to conduct 20,000 COVID-19 tests.  This week, the UN will also deliver much needed Personal Protective Equipment, including 150,000 surgical gloves and 500,000 surgical masks.  Those will be delivered to the Ministry of Health to support front‑line health workers.

**COVID-19 — Lebanon

And turning to Lebanon.  Our peacekeepers there provided medical and personal protective equipment to their host communities in south Lebanon in their collective efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus.  The peacekeeping mission’s Spanish, French and Ghanaian peacekeepers yesterday handed out those life-saving items within their respective areas of responsibility.  The ongoing United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) support to the local communities is matched by the Mission’s robust precautionary measures that have been put in place, since the beginning of the outbreak, in order to prevent the pandemic spread.  UNIFIL seeks to improve capabilities and enhance efforts to prevent the spread of the highly infectious virus.

**COVID-19 — Nigeria

And in Nigeria, our colleagues there tell us that a shipment of ventilators and other essential medical supplies procured by the UN in the country arrived yesterday.  The shipment, which is the first of several, also includes personal protective supplies, which will be deployed throughout Nigeria to health facilities in need.  The UN Resident Coordinator, Edward Kallon, said that the UN in Nigeria is actively mobilizing resources to support the Government’s strategy of containing the virus and adequately caring for those who are ill.  As of 13 April, there were 343 confirmed cases in Nigeria, with 91 discharged and 10 deaths.

**Ebola

Turning now to another epidemic:  the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  As you may be aware, up until Friday, the country had gone 54 days without a confirmed case of Ebola, and 40 days had passed since the last person known to have Ebola tested negative and was discharged from treatment.  Authorities were days away from being able to declare the outbreak over.  However, three new cases have been confirmed since Friday, including two people who died.  It is likely that additional cases will be identified.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee met for the fifth time yesterday and concluded that the Ebola outbreak still constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] reiterated that huge progress has been realized to contain this outbreak in very difficult circumstances.  But, the work of the medical teams in the country is not over.  The Committee noted that, in addition to insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic brings new challenges to an already complex operation.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And staying on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we have another update there.  Since the beginning of April, people in the province of Ituri are victims of a new spike in violence.  Earlier today, Leila Zerrougui, the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), condemned the killings in the province’s Djugu Territory.  People in this area are facing particularly brutal and heinous violence, she said, including murders, looting and arson.  In the areas most affected by violence, UN peacekeepers are strengthening their presence in support of the Congolese army.  They are also increasing patrols, as well as deterrence operations and reconnaissance flights to locate armed combatants.  The Special Representative also shared her concerns about misinformation spread in the area and designed to undermine the work and impartiality of the UN Mission.  As the Congolese population faces multiple threats to health and security, Ms. Zerrougui called for unity to protect the most vulnerable.

**Greece

And a note from Greece:  The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF today welcomed the relocation of 12 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece to Luxembourg.  Germany is also in the process of relocating another group of unaccompanied children from Greece, who are due to arrive this coming weekend.  These are the first relocations under a European Union initiative for 1,600 unaccompanied children in which eight Member States have pledged to participate.  The Agencies highlighted that the progress made is in line with the children’s interests, considers their international protection needs and takes into account existing family ties.  As of early April, there were more than 5,200 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece in urgent need of durable solutions, including expedited registration, family reunification and relocation.  That is it for me.  We now move to my favourite part, your questions, for which I need some reading glasses.  And let's see.  Evelyn, go ahead.  Evelyn?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Yes, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  I just… all right.  There was a story on TASS, as a matter of fact, that Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov wants the P5 of the Security Council to meet in person and video conference can only be supplemented.  Is that something that is safe, or do you have a position on it?  And secondly, has… have there been any volunteers to make up the funds that the United States has or will deduct from WHO?

Spokesman:  We will support Member States in whatever way we can.  So, whatever way they come up with, we will answer.  And as for the funding on WHO, you have to ask WHO.  Edie.  Edie?

Question:  Here I am.  I just couldn't un‑mute.  Thank you.  A couple of questions.  First on WHO, did the Secretary‑General get any advance notice from the United States Administration on the announcement on the suspension of funding to WHO?  And at… what is he going to do to follow up on this announcement?  Obviously, we all know that WHO has its own board, but still, he is the head of… the overall head of this administration of the UN agencies.  And has he talked to anyone high up in the US Administration since the announcement?  That's on WHO.  I have some follow-up…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let… Edie, let me take some of those questions.  I'm not aware that we received any official notification beforehand.  Our main point of contact is and continues to be ambassador Kelly Craft, and I'm not aware of any conversations that have taken place since the morning, on that.  And on funding, WHO, as you know, is a specialized agency with the World Health Assembly as the governing body.  They… it is up to that governing body to dis… go forward on funding.  The Secretary‑General's message is very clear to everyone, is that now is not the time to stop funding of the WHO or any other humanitarian organization that is involved in the COVID‑19 response.  And I think the statement he issued on 8 April and that we reiterated with some added language yesterday, I think, clearly spells out his position.

Question:  Could I… I had two other questions, quick ones.  First, you said yesterday that we were going to get the remarks of Izumi Nakamitsu to the Security Council…?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Not for the first time, I misspoke, because it is a closed briefing of the Security Council, but I can give you the gist of what she said is that the High Representative, Ms. [Izumi] Nakamitsu, briefed the Security Council, including on the findings of the OPCW's [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] IIT [Investigation and Information Team] report.  During the briefing, Ms. Nakamitsu stressed that the findings of the report were deeply distressing, and she reiterated the Secretary‑General's position that the use of chemical weapons by anyone and anywhere is intolerable, and impunity for their use is equally unacceptable.  It is imperative to identify and hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons.  I will go to…

Question:  Wait.  I still had one more.  You just talked about the Secretary‑General delivering remarks on Africa.  Can we get those remarks?

Spokesman:  I'm working on that, and I'm trying not to misspeak, but I am actually working on that.  All right.  Michelle, Reuters.  Michelle?  All right.

In the meantime, Iftikhar is emailing in a question.  He says he has microphone problems.  He's asking:  Prime Minister Imran Khan has proposed to the Secretary‑General to launch a global initiative for debt relief for developing countries to help them combat coronavirus.  Does the Secretary‑General have a response to this proposal?

I think the Prime Minister's initiative is basically in the same spirit as the Secretary‑General's own position.  The Secretary‑General believes that debt relief must be an important part of the COVID‑19 response, including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020.  It's important that the limited resources [of], I think, some of the world's poorest countries must… should be used to combat the virus.  That's for what these resources should be used.  The Secretary‑General has made clear that position privately and publicly, notably in the letter he sent to the G20, which we shared with you, and I think it's also in the spirit of the policy brief that we just flagged from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Michelle, have you been able to connect?  All right.  Let's go to Mr. Bays, whose microphone always works.

Question:  Yes, I hope so.  I have… can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, perfectly.

Question:  Okay.  I have a few questions, so maybe I could do couple of WHO ones and then maybe come back to me for another round later.  So, WHO‑related questions, you told us the Secretary‑General was going to do a news conference.  Now he can't do a news conference.  Is that because of a scheduling conflict at this stage?  Does he have other engagements when he's not supposed to be meeting anyone, or is it simply that he doesn't want to have questions about President [Donald] Trump's decision at this time and he's postponed for that reason?  Second question… second question, does the Secretary‑General think that President Trump's decision is going to cost lives?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General's position is outlined in the statement — that WHO's at the centre of our work to fight COVID‑19, and now is not the time to cut resources to this organization or any other.  I was premature in announcing it.  In fact, the decision not to have it had been made before the announcement.  We're trying to get him in front of you as soon as we can.  The Secretary‑General is, in fact, meeting and talking to quite a few people, either virtually or by phone.  Did you have other issues you wanted to raise while I have you?  James?  Okay.  Ahmed Fathi?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I hope you can hear me.  My question, what's the planned rolling out of testing for the Secretariat and for the resident media?  Do we anticipate that we are on the verge of the UN re‑opening again?  And is there sort of a committee undertaking this activity, or it's just left day by day as we are?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  So, on your first part, I would urge you to actually read every word in the email that was sent to you.  On the second part, we will… the Secre… there is no immediate plan to remove the telecommuting circumstance… policies.  I think those are now in place at least until 30 April.  We will obviously be guided in our discussion with authorities from New York State, from New York City.  The Secretary‑General took the decision early on to close down the building, to move to telecommuting, and I think he will not, in any way, jump the gun on re‑opening it.

I will take the question that was submitted by email from Prensa Latina, who wants to know:  What is the opinion of the Secretary‑General of the Cuban medical brigades that go to different countries to fight the COVID‑19 pandemic?

I think whether it's Cuban medical doctors or doctors or health specialists from other countries going in support to other countries, I think it's a great sign of global solidarity.  This is… as the Secretary‑General said in his statement, this is a time for unity, and this is a time for solidarity.  And I think it is great when countries are able to help each other in the fight against the virus.  Erol.  Erol Avdovic?

Question:  Are you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you perfectly, Erol.

Question:  Okay, very well.  So, regarding the protocol of returning back to the UN campus, what would you say… will the UN follow the issues of the city… I mean the proclamation, rather, of the City of New York and State of New York and also the President Trump, who is talking about arbitrary opening of the country?

Spokesman:  Erol, we're not going to get into the politics of what is going on here.  We are in touch with federal authorities, state authorities, local authorities.  Obviously, the decision to re‑open the building is the Secretary‑General's.  He will be guided by medical advice, and I can assure you that the Secretary‑General will not jump the gun in any way.  We are continuing to telecommute.  We're also continuing to be open for business as these daily briefings attest to it.  Our colleagues… technical colleagues are continuing to support the Security Council in having video meetings.  So, the work of the UN goes on even if we are not physically in the building.

Question:  Just one more… just one more, please, if I can.  James asked you… let me… let me reform… reformulate that question actually.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned that the rhetoric of the President Trump will cost the live… lives worldwide?

Spokesman:  I think I would refer you to what we've… what the Secretary‑General said, and I think it's pretty clear.  It's pretty clear.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Yes, sir.  This is actually a little bit of a follow‑up to Erol's question.  The IMF [International Monetary Fund] has said that… has predicted, like, a catastrophe in the order of the 1929 crisis.  Does the Secretary‑General, maybe based on WHO recommendation, have any idea about exit strategy?  How do we get back… how does the globe get back to normal?

Spokesman:  The health exit strategies is being outlined by WHO.  They're in the lead.  They're the medical experts.  So, we are following their lead.

Question:  But, as the IMF situation… predictions show, there's more than just medical issues involved.  There's also economic…?

Spokesman:  Of course, and we have been saying that from the beginning.  I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said when he launched this solidarity fund from middle‑income countries, is that this is not just a health crisis.  It is a human crisis with severe socioeconomic impact, and how we… how countries implement policies on how we start the economy, the kind of society we have will have a great impact on the world, in the post‑COVID-19 world that we hope to get to as soon as we can.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  There's report says that the P5, the Permanent Five, are planning to have a meeting to declare support of the Secretary‑General's call for a global ceasefire.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesman:  No.  I think… I saw the press reports like you did and what… those statements from President [Emmanuel] Macron this morning.  We would, obviously, welcome such a unified call from not only the P5, but, obviously, the whole of the Security Council.

Question:  So, the SG had received no communication, the SG, on that matter?

Spokesman:  I'm not… he's had conversations with the Permanent Representatives, the P5, over the last… I mean, he's in constant touch with some… a number of Permanent Representatives, but this is a Member State initiative and we have to wait and see what happens.

I have a question from Mohsin Taherezadeh from [inaudible].  The Secretary‑General and others… and UN organization have repeatedly stressed the impact of sanctions on countries' capacities like Iran to respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic, but the US has not changed its policies.  We also see actions against WHO.  Does the Secretary‑General have a pragmatic plan for this?

The Secretary‑General's position on sanctions has been very clear.  He would like to see sanctions that are clearly impacting Member States' ability to respond to the COVID‑19 crisis be removed.  He has made that position clear publicly, and he's made it clear also privately in conversations with some of the Member States who have imposed unilateral sanctions.

James Reinl is asking about Yemen funding.

Yes, we do have an appeal out for Yemen.  We can get you the numbers, and we'll try to get you a humanitarian update from Yemen as soon as we can.  Pam Falk, and then we'll go to Benno from DPA.  Pam?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Just a follow‑up on funding and finding a way to, if necessary, bridge the gap on the US funding cut on WHO.  Does… not Member States or other people, but does the UN have any plan to use CERF [Central Emergency Response Fund], emergency funds, any kind of funding to make up the gap?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  No, go ahead.

Question:  Just on the UN funds and just another way of asking James' question, what does the Secretary‑General believe will be the impact of the fund cutting?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, questions about funding… WHO funding need to be addressed to WHO in order… in terms of how much funding the US gives and the impact on programmes.  That's not a question I can answer.  The Secretary‑General believes that WHO needs to be supported.  The CERF is a different fund.  We have, in various cases, allocated CERF funds to kind of kick‑start programmes in various places.  And you know, WHO has different funding streams, and you need to talk to them about that.  There is a partnership between WHO and the UN Foundation to raise as a solidarity fund, but the funding questions and impact of funding should be addressed to WHO.  Benno, DPA?

Question:  Hi, yes.  Steph, my colleagues, it’s good to see you.  So, actually, I wanted to ask a third time about the COVID‑19 impact.  I mean, like, is the Secretary‑General of the opinion that these cuts might compromise in the fight against the virus?  And the second question would be, as New York is speaking about opening up society again, is there a timeline when this Noon Briefing will be held again in the Secretariat Building?

Spokesman:  There's not… as hard as we may… as difficult as it may be to believe, there's nothing more than I would like to actually see you all in person, at least for a day.  The… when we will open, I don't know.  I mean, you know, as, I think, some experts have said, it's the virus that will decide.  We are in touch with all levels of authorities here.  When the Secretary‑General feels it's safe, the building will be re‑opened, but there is no date for that re‑opening set now.  We will assess and the Secretary‑General will do what is safest… take the safest route in that decision‑making, as he did when he decided to close the building down and limit the number of people that were there.  The Secretary‑General's position on announcements made yesterday, I think, is very clear and is outlined in the statement that we issued… that he issued last night.  Let's see.  I think… James, I think you still had some questions.  So, I'm happy… well, yes, I guess I'm happy…

Question:  I do have some questions.  So, if I can first perhaps slightly try and amend my earlier question, because you just read me a bit of the statement.  I don't want a bit of a statement.  I want an answer.  And I understand that the proper assessment of the impact has to be done by the WHO.  Does the Secretary‑General fear that lives could be lost as a result of President Trump's decision? And I'd appreciate a yes or no.

Spokesman:  Well, I always try to get you what you would appreciate, but what I can tell you, again, is that WHO is at the centre of the fight against COVID‑19, and one of the best ways we can have to fight this virus is to show solidarity and to support WHO and other organizations.

Question:  Okay.  Some quick follow‑ups.  First, the testing in the building, are there any plans for the antibody test?  Clearly, the big… one of the big pieces of this is finding out people who are asymptomatic.

Spokesman:  I understand.  I would encourage you to read that email fully.  Okay?  Anyone else?

Question:  No, I've got another question.  I've got another question, Steph.  I've got two more questions.  So, you've already been asked this.  I'll ask it in a different way.  In an interview with Al Jazeera, the French ambassador to the UN said he was hopeful in the next few days the Security Council might be able to pass a resolution on cessation in conflict zones on the Security Council's agenda.  That clearly echoes the Secretary‑General's call.  What will be the Secretary‑General's view if… and how important would such a resolution be?

Spokesman:  I think it would be sending an extremely strong and powerful message if the Secretary‑General's call for a global ceasefire was backed by a Security Council resolution.  The Member States will decide.  The Security Council members will decide, but I think we are very pleased with the impact it has had and the resonance the Secretary‑General's call has had.  We've seen a number of leaders on the world stage echo that call.  We have seen armed groups put that call into action.  I think it is something that has resonated the world over, and a united and strong message from the Security Council would go a long way in pushing that call further and making it a reality.

Question:  And final question from me is on Libya.  Rather, concerning statements coming from [UNSMIL].  If I can ask you about what's been going on in the towns in western Libya and the shelling of Tripoli, does the Secretary‑General fear from what his team on the ground is telling him that war crimes are being committed?

Spokesman:  Look, we all know that the targeting of civilians, of health infrastructure, and all that's related has the potential of being war crimes.  The situation on the ground is extremely worrying.  Our acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, has continued to be in contact, to do outreach to various Libyan leaders and actors all across the spectrum.  She's also been in touch with those members of the international community who could have an influence on the parties, all with the single‑minded goal of ending the violence and resuming the talks on ceasefire agreements.  In the meantime, as we do around the world when the fighting continues, our humanitarian staff, their local partners are continuing to provide life‑saving assistance to the people most impacted by the conflict, which is, yet again, the civilians and the most vulnerable in Libya.

Question:  A follow-up on Libya, Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Okay.  Yeah, you mentioned that there was some violation of the human rights in the area that the legitimate Government took over in western Libya.  Can you share with us some of these stories?  How did the Government… the official… the officially recognized Government violate human rights in this area that they just retook from [Khalifa] Haftar's forces?

Spokesman:  I will… we'll try to get you a bit more detail.  I think we were pretty specific in outlining our issues with the LNA [Libyan National Army] forces, as well as the Government of National Accord.

Spokesman:  All right.  Unless there is something else, I will see you tomorrow.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.