The General Assembly adopted two resolutions today on the global response to COVID-19, nearly six months after the novel coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside a third resolution on the fight against malaria under way in Africa.
By a recorded vote of 169 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 2 abstentions (Hungary, Ukraine), the Assembly adopted a 14-page omnibus resolution titled “Comprehensive and coordinated response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic” (document A/74/L.92), as orally amended. Submitted by the President of the Assembly, it acknowledged the key leadership role of WHO — and the fundamental role of the United Nations system — in catalysing and coordinating the global response to COVID-19, and the central efforts of Member States. It called for intensified international cooperation and solidarity to contain, mitigate and overcome the pandemic and its consequences through responses that are people-centred and gender-responsive, with full respect for human rights.
By other terms, the Assembly called on Member States, with support from the United Nations, to coordinate the development of a science- and evidence-based, cooperative and comprehensive approach to allocating scarce resources for combating COVID-19 based on public health needs. It also encouraged Member States to partner with relevant stakeholders to increase research and development funding for vaccines and medicines, leverage digital technologies, and strengthen scientific cooperation necessary to combat COVID-19. It further called on Member States to adopt a climate- and environment-sensitive approach to COVID-19 recovery efforts, including by aligning investments and domestic policies with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Prior to adopting the omnibus text, the Assembly — by a recorded vote of 84 in favour to 13 against, with 60 abstentions — amended its operative paragraph 20, strongly urging States to refrain from promulgating and applying any unilateral economic, financial or trade measures not in accordance with international law and the United Nations Charter that impede the full achievement of economic and social development, particularly in developing countries.
Introducing that amendment, Cuba’s representative said operative paragraph 20 failed to reflect legitimate concerns about the negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures on national efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Belize’s representative, speaking for small island developing States, said countries in special situations similarly are facing unimaginable challenges. “Small island developing States are collapsing and our backs are against the wall,” she said. Germany’s representative, speaking for the European Union, requested a vote on the proposed amendment, explaining that the bloc’s sanctions are targeted at individuals and entities responsible for certain policies and actions while avoiding as much as possible adverse humanitarian effects.
Following a request by the representative of the United States for a recorded vote on operative paragraph 7, the Assembly decided to retain that paragraph by a vote of 122 in favour to 3 against (Iraq, Libya, United States), with 25 abstentions. By a recorded vote of 142 in favour to 2 against (India, United States), with 13 abstentions, it likewise decided to retain operative paragraph 34.
In explanations of vote on “L.92” as a whole, several delegates expressed reservations about various sections of the text. They also raised concerns about the manner in which the omnibus resolution was negotiated, with Mexico’s representative expressing regret that it was adopted in “unnecessary haste” and failed to fully address the pandemic’s impact on migrants and remittances. Hungary’s delegate said that an unnecessary proliferation of COVID-19 resolutions did not help find effective solutions to the crisis. “We should really focus on tangible measures,” she stressed. Germany’s representative, speaking for the European Union, expressed regret that operative paragraph 7 was put to a vote, given the pandemic’s impact on women’s access to essential health services. In the same vein, Australia’s representative, speaking for 42 Member States, described the vote on operative paragraph 7 as an “unfortunate” attempt to upset consensus on sexual and reproductive health.
The United States’ representative meanwhile said China’s Communist Party had concealed the truth about the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in innumerable needless deaths. Those responsible must be held accountable for their actions and inactions, he said, adding that WHO must reform, including by declaring its independence from China’s Communist Party. China’s representative said the lies and deceptions of the United States are “well past their sell-by date”. If the United States is serious about fighting COVID-19, it should focus on the health of its own people and lift unilateral sanctions that violate international law.
The Assembly then adopted the resolution titled “United response against global health threats: combating COVID-19” (document A/74/L.57) by a recorded vote of 122 in favour to none against, with 31 abstentions. By its terms, the Assembly called for intensified international cooperation and multilateral efforts in handling disease outbreaks, including by sharing timely, accurate and transparent information, exchanging epidemiological and clinical data, sharing materials necessary for research and development, and implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) and relevant guidance.
By other terms, it stressed the urgency of stepping up global efforts to fight health crises and pandemics while also maintaining economic stability — notably through swift delivery of medical supplies, increased research and development funding for vaccines and medicines, and ensuring that medical supplies are made widely available, at affordable prices, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed. It stressed the need to engage with frontline international organizations, including WHO, as well as to support economies, protect workers and businesses — especially micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises — and to shield the vulnerable through adequate social protection.
Introducing the text, Saudi Arabia’s representative said that as the world grapples with the greatest ever public health challenge, his delegation led the drafting of a resolution that calls for greater cooperation to combat COVID-19. It is regrettable, however, that the silence procedure was broken after the final version was tabled. Syria’s representative said the substance of “L.57” had not been the subject of negotiation or transparent discussion.
In other business, the Assembly adopted without a vote the resolution titled “Consolidating gains and accelerating efforts to control and eliminate malaria in developing countries, particularly in Africa, by 2030” (document A/74/L.91), calling on all Member States to ensure that malaria and other essential services are sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic and, on the basis of lessons learned, to work towards building resilient health systems.
Among other things, the Assembly called for greater support in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 3 (good health and well-being), target 3.3, as well as related targets outlined in the WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016‑2030. It called on the international community to help malaria-endemic countries strengthen their health systems, medicine production and human resources to achieve universal health coverage.
In an explanation of position, the representative of the United States said his delegation did not concur with references to WHO in several of the resolution’s preambular and operative paragraphs.
The Assembly also decided to appoint Bhutan to the board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns for a term beginning on 11 September 2020 and ending on 15 September 2021.
Also delivering statements today were representatives of Belize (on behalf of small island developing States), United Kingdom, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Israel, Uruguay, Peru, Russian Federation, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Iran, Pakistan, Ukraine, Colombia, Guatemala, Republic of Korea and Afghanistan.
The observer of the Holy See also spoke.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. Monday, 13 September, to continue its work.