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16 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.  Happy to see you all here.  I’d like to remind you to mute your microphones to get the system working.

**COVID-19 — Children

At 1 p.m.  today, we will be issuing a policy brief [that] the Secretary-General will launch looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, which highlights the risks they face.  The report looks at issues such as education and food security.

The policy brief also addresses issues regarding safety, including domestic violence, abuse and the growing risks children are facing as they spend more time online.

**Security Council — Yemen

Here in New York, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council, and he briefed remotely, from Jordan.  He told them that an opportunity has emerged to bring peace to Yemen, when the arrival of the pandemic threatens to bring deeper and more widespread suffering to the people.  He said there cannot be a more timely moment for the two parties to commit to silencing the guns and ending the conflict through a peaceful, political solution.

Following the call of the Secretary-General for a ceasefire, Mr. Griffiths presented proposals to the two parties — the first on a nationwide ceasefire agreement and the second on key humanitarian and economic measures.  Over the past two weeks, he said, he has been in constant negotiations with the parties on the texts of these agreements and expects them to agree and formally adopt these agreements in the immediate future.  Mr. Griffiths added that Yemen cannot face two fronts at the same time:  a war and a pandemic.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also briefed the Security Council and said that more than five years of war have severely degraded Yemen’s health infrastructure, exhausted people’s immune systems and increased acute vulnerabilities.  As a result, he said, epidemiologists warn that COVID-19 in Yemen could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries.

Mr. Lowcock said that the UN is working with all stakeholders to take precautions to reduce the risk of the virus while maintaining life-saving assistance.  He warned that funding for aid operations is running out.  Of the UN’s 41 major programmes, 31 will start closing down in the next few weeks without additional funds.

**COVID-19 — UN Response

And turning to the WHO:  This morning, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Executive Director of UN-Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, spoke with the UN Resident Coordinators leading our work in 162 countries and territories to help Governments combat the spread of the virus.

Dr. Tedros stressed that coordination at the country level now is the most important part of our work, adding that he was proud that the whole UN system is coming together to support countries and leave no one behind.

For her part, the head of UN-Women emphasized the need to address the needs of women because they are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.  She noted that 70 per cent of women in developing countries are in the informal sector and that women who work in hospitals are infected at higher rates than men.

She also reiterated how the pandemic could reverse the limited progress made on gender equality and women’s rights, including increased rates of violence against women.

**COVID-19 — Tourism

A report published yesterday by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that as of 6 April, 96 per cent of all worldwide destinations have introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic.

The Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Zurab Pololikashvili, said that the pandemic has impacted travel and tourism like no other event in history.  He added that with tourism suspended, the benefits the sector brings are under threat and millions of jobs could be lost.  More information is available on their website.

And now turning to some of the country-specific updates we have been highlighting.

**COVID-19 — Organization of Eastern Caribbean States

The UN teams in 10 countries — including Barbados and other countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States — have put together a Preparedness and Response Plan for Eastern Caribbean nations.

All of these countries have confirmed cases of the virus, and the new plan addresses immediate health needs and the broader social and economic impacts of the pandemic, many of these economies being small, vulnerable and heavily dependent on tourism.

The UN system has set up an inter-agency task force — comprising the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and under the guidance of the UN Resident Coordinators.  This is to boost our efficiency in purchasing quality products at better prices, including personal protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators.

**COVID-19 — Nigeria

And an update from Nigeria, where our colleagues tell us that they received a delivery of vital supplies to fight the pandemic.

The supplies, which were sent on a flight funded by the company APM Terminals, include 10,000 testing kits, 15 oxygen concentrators, personal protective equipment and vaccines.

More supplies are expected to be delivered in Nigeria in a UN flight in the coming days.

**COVID-19 — Democratic Republic of the Congo

With over 260 cases of COVID-19 now confirmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Humanitarian Coordinator, David McLachlan-Karr, has allocated $10 million from the country’s Humanitarian Fund to support joint preparedness and response activities.

The funds will be used to raise awareness about the pandemic in vulnerable communities.  They will also support efforts to foster community participation and engagement in prevention activities, as well as to facilitate access to sanitation infrastructure in areas affected by the disease.

Activities primarily targeted with this new funding will include health, water, hygiene and sanitation, as well as protection.

**COVID-19 — Burkina Faso

Turning to Burkina Faso, where a fragile national health-care system and massive displacements are increasing the risks of the spread of the virus:  Almost one in four health centres (that’s 24 per cent) is either closed or not functioning in areas with humanitarian needs related to the conflict and other factors.

And as a reminder, almost 800,000 people are currently displaced in Burkina Faso, and this is challenging epidemic control and response measures.

The UN’s Humanitarian country team is engaging with the Government to ensure the safety and continuity of the humanitarian response.

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has earmarked $4.1 million for the country from the global COVID CERF allocation of $75 million, announced on 25 March.

Burkina Faso is the West African country the most impacted by the pandemic, with 8 out of 13 regions affected.  As of today, 542 cases have been confirmed and 32 deaths recorded.

**Bangladesh

Turning to Bangladesh.  At the request of the Government of Bangladesh, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners there are currently providing shelter and assistance to close to 400 Rohingya refugee survivors who disembarked from a boat in the Bay of Bengal this morning.

The Refugee Agency says it heard from those onboard the ship that some 30 more refugees may have passed away at sea as the boat ran out of food, water and fuel during a nearly two-month long journey at sea.

The survivors, who include a large number of women and children, are all in weak physical condition, with many dehydrated and malnourished and in need of immediate medical attention.

Despite some media reports claiming that the group may be infected with the COVID-19 virus, there is currently no evidence to substantiate these reports.

**Abyei

And the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) has strongly condemned the attack by an organized Misseriya armed group on Mabok village in southern Abyei on 13 April.  Four Ngok Dinka people were killed and two children kidnapped, while some 50 homes were burnt down.

The Mission is saddened that the recent attack happened despite its efforts to promote peaceful coexistence between the communities.  The UN Mission had recently facilitated two meetings between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya traditional leaders on 16 March and 9 April to de-escalate tensions between the two groups.

More worrisome, the Mission said, is that this attack happened at a time when the world is united to fight the virus and cautioned that it could reverse the gains made over the past few years in the peace process in Abyei.

**Financial Contribution

And so far, 81 Member States have paid their 2020 budget dues in full.  And we want to say thank you and welcome the latest payment — by Brunei Darussalam.  They paid $695,334.

**Ann Charles

And I’m sorry to end on a sad note.

In this virtual room, I can’t see all your faces together, but if I could right now, I’d look to my right to see one more time the seat where our friend and colleague Ann Charles would sit.

I am sad to report that Ann, who had been a long-time reporter for the Baltic Review, has passed away.  As you might know, she had been part of the UN press corps since 1988, focusing on human rights, press freedoms, the treatment of minorities and other subjects concerning the Baltic states.

Just recently, in 2018, she was awarded the Silver Medal of Merit from Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania, for her contributions to the country.

I will miss seeing her ready smile and her friendly face as she brightened up the press briefing room and our lives.

We send our condolences to her family.  And we have contact numbers for her family if you wish to contact them.

Okay.  Let’s now go to your questions for which I need my glasses.

**Questions and Answers

Pam Falk?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Quick question on follow‑up to the WHO fund‑cutting by the US.  Any further comment from the Secretary‑General on impact or on a message to the international community?  The Gates Foundation just gave $150 million to offset some of the loss.  Do you have any other commitments from the UN itself, not from the… not referring us to WHO, that you know about?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think the statement the Secretary‑General put out after this announcement, I think, could not have been clearer.  This continues to be our opinion.

We obviously welcome the gift… the additional funding from the Gates Foundation, and I think, as WHO said today or yesterday, they are assessing the impact and looking at funding issues.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Let’s go to my list from of our trusted assistant.  Edie.  Edie?

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I’m sitting here in shock about Ann Charles’ death… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Very sad, indeed.

Correspondent:  She was a very good friend, and I think that probably 50 or more pictures I have of myself at UN events are from her, but she was a warm and wonderful person.

Come back to me.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Will do.  Sorry.  Abdelhamid.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question on Palestine.  There is a letter addressed to the President of the General… of the Security Council that states that, between 5 March and 5 April, Israeli authorities demolished 47 Palestinian structures, arrested 267, conducted 238 raids, and killed three Palestinians.  They arrested the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Mr. Fadi al‑Hadami, and they arrested also the Governor… Palestinian Governor of East Jerusalem, Adnan Ghaith, and just because they acted to help Palestinian in East Jerusalem to cope with COVID‑19.  So Israeli… took that as interference of their sovereignty over Jerusalem.

If all these incidents did not… worth a special statement from the Secretary‑General or his Special Envoy, then I wonder when the… Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov issue a strong statement to at least to curtail the Israelis of taking advantage of… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, with all due respect, I have not seen the letter.  Let me take a look at it, and I will get back to you with Mr. Mladenov.

Michelle?

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Michelle from Reuters.  All right.  See if you can work your mic.  Otherwise, we’ll come back to you.

Samira from IPS.

Question:  Stéphane, thank you very much.  My question is about the Rohingya refugees who have been rescued in Bangladesh, and you mentioned that no one has yet been… like, a case of coronavirus has not yet been detected, but does UNHCR have all the proper resources to test all of them?  And what… and are they also being placed with other refugees at this time or are there other issues to come… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  As I understand the information I got from UNHCR, there are… they have not been moved to any refugee camp.  They are getting the medical attention that they need, and I think there were rumours, as there often are in these cases, that they were tested positive.  But as we said, they have no… UNHCR, I think, was very clear in saying, as far as they knew, that was not true.  But, obviously, they’re being watched medically.

Correspondent:  All right.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Oscar Bolanos?

All right.  If you can’t turn on your mic, I have a question from Michelle at Reuters asking for latest information on discussions on Afghanistan.

What I can tell you is that, today, the Secretariat… the UN Secretariat convened a discussion with Member States on regional efforts to support peace in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the United States and Uzbekistan all participated in this meeting, which was held virtually.

The format brought together Afghanistan and six neighbouring countries, plus Russia and the United States, in recognition of the importance of the region to Afghanistan’s stability and sustainable development.

The discussions focused on a comprehensive peace process in Afghanistan through intra‑Afghan negotiations and on the importance of regional cooperation in support to Afghanistan.  Participants expressed solidarity with Afghanistan in its quest for peace, security and prosperity and echoed the Secretary‑General’s call for a comprehensive ceasefire, especially in light of the urgent need to combat the spread of the virus.  The United Nations stands ready to deliver life‑saving assistance to people in need and is committed to the peaceful development of Afghanistan.

Edie, please.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A couple of questions.  Can we get updates on contributions to the funds that the Secretary‑General has announced?  And…

Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead.  No, go ahead.  And your other question?

Question:  Yeah.  I don’t know whether I was the only one listening to the Security Council this morning on WebTV who had very bad sound, but you might want to tell the engineers that… I see a few people… a few of my colleagues shaking their heads, like Maria and… I mean, yeah.

Spokesman:  Maria is always shaking her head, but we’ll…

Correspondent:  No!  [laughs]

Spokesman:  But we will check and pass on your remarks.  We do want to… I mean, we… I think everybody’s making efforts to make these systems work, and we will do that.  On the… [cross talk]

Correspondent:  [inaudible]  No, I was just going to [inaudible] want to tell them the sound was coming… like, he’d say three words, and then we’d hear it again.  So, it was, like, doubling over.

Spokesman:  Will do.

On the Humanitarian Response Plan, as of 14 April, the fund had received $393 million.  The Trust Fund, I don’t have the figures with me, but what I will do is we will circulate by email the websites for both these funds, because the funds are being updated on a daily basis, and you can just check the money as it rolls in or as it, hopefully, rolls in.

I have a question from Iftikhar, Associated Press of Pakistan:  The new Rohingya arrivals in Bangladesh, will the UN call on Myanmar to a response to the SG’s appeal?

I’m not sure I fully understand the question, but if… I’ll take a stab at it, that the Secretary‑General does appeal for ceasefires and cessation of hostilities globally, and I think the Secretary‑General’s position on Myanmar and the situation and the need to address the underlying causes of these… a lot of these issues in Rakhine State remains unchanged.

Oscar asks:  The Secretary‑General appeals to the fight against the pandemic or in solidarity and in cooperation, but in practice, we’re seeing how some positions are far from the reality of the world we’re facing with the common enemy.  In this regard, how can the UN help?  What mechanisms the UN should apply to mobilize the unity of the world to protect against the pandemic?

Well, the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire, for unity and solidarity is being constantly reiterated.  One mechanism is for global support to the World Health Organization, which is leading our fight on the medical end and on the public health end to the virus.

And, second, we look forward to seeing the legislative bodies of this Organization also come together and speak with one voice in our global efforts and our efforts rooted in solidarity to fight the virus.

Unless Florencia [Soto Nino] tells me otherwise, I think I have run through my questions, and that’s it.  So, we shall see you next time around.  And thank you, all.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.