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7 October 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 morning.

**Universal Health Coverage

We issued this morning the Secretary‑General’s Policy Brief on COVID‑19 and Universal Health Care Coverage.  The report makes clear that the pandemic has shown that under‑investment in health can have a devastating impact on societies and economies.  The pandemic is costing the global economy $375 billion a month, with some 500 million jobs having been lost so far.  The report adds that at least half of the world’s population still do not have full coverage of essential health services, and over 800 million people spend at least 10 per cent of their household budgets to pay for health care services.

The Secretary‑General, in a video message launching the report, said that COVID‑19 has shown that Universal Health Coverage, strong public health systems and emergency preparedness are essential to communities, to economies, and to everyone.  We need universal health coverage, including mental health coverage, now, to strengthen efforts against the pandemic and prepare for future crises, he added.  The report also recommends controlling further transmission of COVID‑19 through proven public health measures and a coordinated global response; protecting delivery of other health services during the pandemic; ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to future vaccines, tests and treatment; and strengthening preparedness.

**Climate Change

Also today, via video message, the Secretary‑General spoke to the Daring Cities Virtual Forum:  Urban Leaders and Climate Change.  He said that we need cities to commit to net‑zero emissions before 2050, and a 45 per cent reduction by 2030.  He also told urban leaders that they are on the frontlines of the solutions to the climate crisis and called on them to invest in climate adaptation and resilience.  The Secretary‑General also sent video remarks to the Climate Vulnerable Forum and stressed that vulnerable nations need support for adaptation and resilience as well as mitigation and should be funded equally by Multilateral Development Banks and the Green Climate Fund.  He underscored that climate‑vulnerable countries are already leaders on climate ambition and are crucial to push the biggest emitters to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and reiterated the UN’s readiness to support their ambitious action to tackle the crisis.

**Maritime Forum

This morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the opening of the Global Maritime Forum's Virtual High‑Level Meeting.  She thanked all seafarers for their work, saying they are essential to the functioning of our societies and economies.  She reiterated the Secretary‑General’s appeal to governments to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers.”  She also noted that the maritime industry plays a key role in tackling the climate crisis.  She thanked the Global Maritime Forum for its commitment at last year’s Climate Action Summit to joining the “Getting to Zero Coalition”.  The Coalition seeks to get commercially viable zero emission vessels operating along deep‑sea trade routes by 2030.  Ms. Mohammed said the UN stands ready to work closely with the Forum to chart a course through the current COVID‑19 pandemic and the climate emergency.

**Bratislava Forum

And the Deputy Secretary‑General also had a video message today for the 2020 Bratislava Forum for GLOBSEC, a think tank.  She highlighted how technology is making a world possible where we can continue to work and learn during the COVID‑19 pandemic.  She pointed out that Central and Eastern Europe will see an immense growth in new technology users over the next decade, adding that groups such as GLOBSEC must push Governments and companies to ensure that this growth comes with benefits for the environment, with new skills, new jobs, gains for privacy and advances that bridge the digital divide.

**Joint SDG Fund

And yesterday afternoon, she joined Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, the Director General of the Swedish International Development Cooperation, Carin Jamtin, as well as private sector partners, in an event moderated by Nathalia Kanem, the Head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  The event focused on boosting public-private partnerships to recover better from the pandemic and for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Amina Mohammed said that success is when we reach the billions of people that we need to reach and that success is when we reach the SDGs — we must not stop until then.  All those remarks have been shared with you.

**Mali

Turning to Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) welcomes the designation of a transitional Government, following several weeks of negotiations.  The Mission also welcomed the lifting of sanctions imposed by the Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS), adding that all conditions are now in place to begin work in earnest over the next 18 months to implement the transition charter and to prepare for the holding of elections.

Our colleagues in Bamako said it is critical that the Malian parties uphold their commitments under the peace agreement and prioritize the key institutional reforms of the peace process, which has been progressing too slowly over the past couple of months.  They are also encouraged to see that the signatory armed groups are part of the transition Government and call on all stakeholders to work constructively, in the spirit of compromise and for the common good.  The Head of the mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, met with transitional President [Bah] N’Daw this week to convey his message and reiterate the United Nations’ readiness to support the transition authorities.

**Cyprus

And in a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary‑General said he is concerned by the announcement made on the opening of the beach/coastline of Varosha, in Cyprus.  He recalled that the position of the United Nations on Varosha remains unchanged and is guided by relevant Security Council resolutions.  The Secretary‑General stressed the need to avoid any unilateral actions that could trigger tensions on the island and undermine the return to dialogue or the future success of talks.  He called on all parties to engage in dialogue in order to resolve their differences.  And he reiterated his readiness to bring the parties together.

**Syria

The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Imran Riza, and the UN’s Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Kevin Kennedy, both strongly condemned the horrific bombing that reportedly killed and injured dozens of civilians in Al Bab in northern Syria yesterday.  Early reports indicate that more than a dozen civilians were killed and up to 40 injured.  In a statement, the two senior UN officials expressed their profound condolences to the families of the victims and those impacted by the attack.  After more than nine years of crisis, they said, civilians living in Syria have already endured suffering and deprivation for far too long.  They urged all parties to fully adhere to their obligations under International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law to ensure the safety and protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**Cameroon — COVID-19

And an update from Cameroon, where our UN colleagues, led by Resident Coordinator Matthias Naab, continue to support national efforts to boost livelihoods impacted by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Several UN agencies are using local data to help authorities tailor their response and recovery plans in cities targeting groups such as women, young people and persons with disabilities to prevent them from falling into poverty.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supported a Government survey on behavioural changes during the pandemic.  It found that, while nearly all people who took part in the survey have heard of COVID‑19, only 7 in 10 respondents have specific knowledge about the disease, including how to prevent it, its symptoms and risks.  Also, 6 in 10 respondents fear being stigmatized if they contract the disease.  The UN team, therefore, is focusing on spreading science-based messages to curb misinformation.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Yesterday, the Security Council heard from Leila Zerrougui, the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).  She addressed the political situation and warned that an increased focus on the 2023 elections could undermine the much‑needed progress in governance reforms and stabilization measures.  She reiterated that the 2018 elections and resulting peaceful transfer of power were a historic turning point but concluded that much remains to be done to place the country on the path to long‑term stability and long‑term development.

**South Sudan

And lastly, our colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP) in South Sudan strongly condemned an attack on its boat convoy carrying food assistance.  The river convoy had 13 crew people aboard when it was attacked near Shambe [North].  One person is missing and presumed killed, while three people suffered gunshot wounds.  WFP stresses that humanitarian workers and contractors risk their lives delivering much-needed food assistance to the most vulnerable.  The food aid was intended for people displaced after losing their homes and crops to floods.  Over 800,000 people have been impacted by floods in South Sudan, on top of years of conflict that have caused widespread hunger and malnutrition.  All right.  Let's go to the questions, if there are any.  I see a hand being raised in this very room.  Mr. Bays?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  The SG's call for universal health care, I assume it applies everywhere, including here in the Host Country?

Spokesman:  Yes, it applies everywhere.

Question:  So, he's going to make that call in the US at this time, the election, there should be universal health care here…?

Spokesman:  This is part of a series of policy briefs that we've been… the Secretary‑General has been releasing since, I think, April, if I'm not mistaken.  It's been in the works for quite some time.  The message is not targeted to any particular country.  It is targeted at every country, and I think we see the world over the issues that arise when people don't have access to health care.

Question:  But he talked about very… he talks about very many million people around the world.  Clearly, quite a few of those million are here in the United States, who don't have universal health care.  Does he have any particular message to the people of the US, who could make a decision on this in the coming weeks?

Spokesman:  The message… first of all, the report is not linked to the electoral calendar here in the United States, to make that clear.  And the message is for leaders all over the world.  Okay.  Let's see… let's go to the chat in case anybody wants to chat with me.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I had a question regarding Libya and a migrant worker who was burned to death today in Tripoli, and several Libyans were arrested.  They had actually gone into a place where several African migrants were working.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this horrendous act?

Spokesman:  Look, sometimes you run out of adjectives to describe what we see in all too many places.  The people responsible for such a heinous attack need to be brought to justice.  This underscores, as if we needed to underscore yet again, how unsafe Libya is for migrants, for refugees, and how much the authorities on the ground still need to do to ensure the protection of these vulnerable people.  Okay.  I don't see any more questions.  If you have… wave if you have a question… Abdelhamid, yes, and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  First, I have a question and then a follow‑up.  The question is, when the… when President [Donald] Trump was diagnosed with COVID‑19, the Secretary‑General issued a… I think, tweeted wishing him best of health and fast recovery.  Did he do the same when Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom was also diagnosed with COVID‑19?

Spokesman:  Yes, he did.

Question:  Oh, thank you very much.  I had two… yesterday two questions, one on the Russian journalist and one on the insulting statement by President [Emmanuel] Macron.  And do you have any update on that?

Spokesman:  On the issues, I think, raised by… in the remarks by President Macron, I would encourage you to look, I think, at the tweet and the message issued this morning by the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.  And on the other issue, I don't have anything more to add than what I said yesterday.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I missed part of your opening remarks, but do you have any update on the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia?  And also, any progress on the diplomatic front?

Spokesman:  No.  Sadly, no updates and no progress to report.  We sadly see that the fighting is continuing, and once again, civilians appear to be carrying the brunt of it.  And we would appeal yet again for all the parties to stop the fighting and for those who have an influence over the parties to encourage a cessation of hostilities.  All right.  I don't see anything else.  I look in… no, nothing in the chat.  Mr. Varma, they're all yours, or you're all theirs.

For information media. Not an official record.