Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery Must Focus on Building Greener, Fairer World, Secretary-General Says, Warning against Leaving Broken Planet to Future Generations
World leaders came together virtually in a special session of the General Assembly today dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far claimed more than 1.5 million lives and sent the global economy into a tailspin, with speakers demanding urgent multilateral action to guarantee equitable distribution of life-saving vaccines and to trigger an economic recovery that can put the world back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The two-day special session — the first it has convened in four years — was mandated by the Assembly on 5 November, following its formal opening on 10 July and the adoption on 11 September of an omnibus resolution calling for a holistic response to the novel coronavirus outbreak that was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) nearly six months earlier. (See Press Releases GA/12255, GA/12262 and GA/12282.)
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, underscoring the enormous global impact of COVID-19, said that factual information and scientific guidance from the WHO should have been the basis for a coordinated global response. However, its recommendations were not followed, and today some countries are still rejecting facts and ignoring guidance, “and when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction”. Vaccines may become available in a matter of weeks or months, but they cannot undo damage that will stretch across the years and decades to come. “It is time for a reset. As we build a strong recovery, we must seize the opportunity for change,” he said.
Renewing his call for a global ceasefire so that countries can focus on fighting the novel coronavirus, he underscored the United Nations appeal for a stimulus package worth at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) as well as debt relief for all States that need it. Looking ahead, he said the post-pandemic recovery must address pre-existing conditions ranging from gaps in basic services to the climate emergency. But he warned: “We cannot bequeath a broken planet and huge debts to future generations. The money we spend on recovery must go into building a greener, fairer future.”
Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said that the special session marked an overdue and much-needed moment of reckoning. “This crisis compels us to shake up how things are done, to be bold and to restore trust in the United Nations,” he said. Going forward, he said that the international community must act multilaterally to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines, ease debt burdens, ensure universal health coverage, safeguard the environment and biodiversity, and jumpstart the Sustainable Development Goals. “The United Nations is working for you. We are united for you. Stay strong. There are brighter days ahead,” he told the peoples of the world.
Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered health, economic and above all humanitarian crises, with global infections reaching 65 million and 1.5 million deaths. The economic statistics are equally devastating, with global contraction of 5 per cent, five countries having defaulted on debt requirements, 20 facing severe food insecurity, 300 million jobs lost, and 100 million people pushed back into extreme poverty. “The world’s response must be equally bold,” he said, emphasizing that the international community must ensure a vaccine is made available to everyone everywhere, rich or poor, on an equitable basis, with health workers, the ill and infirm, women and children given priority access.
In pre-recorded statements, Heads of State and Government from the four corners of the globe shared their respective nations’ experiences with the worst global pandemic in a century. Many echoed calls for a vaccine to be made available equally and widely, for the debt burden on developing countries to be eased, and for human rights to be upheld. Several saw a unique opportunity for a post-COVID recovery that would put the world on track to a greener future, with sustainable development and concrete action to curb climate change.
Ilham Heydar Oglu Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the multifaceted repercussions of the pandemic extend to the health, social, economic and financial spheres and disrupt societies due to devastating effects on livelihoods. Azerbaijan, as the Movement’s Chair, convened the “United Against COVID‑19” summit in May through which a task force and database were created to help Non-Aligned Movement Member States meet their populations’ need in the face of the pandemic.
Emmanuel Macron, President of France, proposed a donation mechanism to ensure that a portion of the first vaccines doses are used to vaccinate priority groups in developing countries. Those doses — whether they come from Europe, China, the Russian Federation or the United States, or whether they result from donations from States or pharmaceutical companies — would be allocated effectively and fairly, based on WHO recommendations. He stressed, however, that vaccines will not be enough. Unless primary health systems are strengthened in the most vulnerable countries, and unless health workers everywhere are trained, the overall health response will remain suboptimal, he said.
Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, noted the African Union’s targeted, deliberate response on the continent, establishing a fund to help economies recover, among other initiatives. He cautioned, however, that African countries will need continued support going forward, and called for the international community to launch a comprehensive economic stimulus package, suspend debt interest payments and lift sanctions on Sudan and Zimbabwe to aid their recovery.
Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, underlined the main factors in his country’s response to COVID-19, including the strength of its health-care system and its dedicated health workers. He stressed the importance of promoting basic preventive measures, as recommended by WHO — mask wearing, frequent hand washing and social distancing. Vaccines and medicines should be global public goods that are equally accessible to everyone.
Yi Wang, State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, echoed that sentiment, calling for information-sharing to promote a collective response to COVID-19 and enhanced cooperation to make vaccines accessible and affordable to all, including developing countries. Looking ahead to the winter months, he said: “We must be prepared for a prolonged struggle,” adding that economies must be reopened. Calling for enhanced development and resilience for emerging industries, he also underscored the need for macroeconomic policies that keep global supply chains stable.
Likewise, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, called on Member States to unite in pursuing global efforts ensuring full, equitable access to a potential vaccine. “The pandemic has taught us difficult lessons about inequality both at home and between countries,” he said, noting that advanced economies have spent 20 per cent of their GDP to support their citizens during the pandemic, while developing economies can only afford to spend 8 per cent.
Alexey Tsoy, Minister for Health of Kazakhstan, noted his Government’s various measures to ensure economic stability and counter the spread of infection in the country, including free outpatient drugs for COVID‑19 patients with pneumonia and the construction of 16 complexes that meet international standards. Further, more than $2 billion has been allocated to fight the pandemic and Kazakh scientists have developed a vaccine that has been vetted through clinical trials.
Kais Saied, President of Tunisia, said that as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, his country, together with France, spearheaded resolution 2532 (2020), unanimously adopted on 1 July. That text made it possible to expand the concept of collective security to include a public health dimension, he explained, adding the world still needs a plan that meets the needs of everyone impacted by the coronavirus.
Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President of Cuba, said that under the present circumstances, the establishment of a just, democratic and equitable international order is an imperative. “It is a condition for the survival of the species in an ever more interconnected and paradoxically unequal world,” he said. Given the severity of the crisis, he wondered why the enormous budget that some States have access to is currently being squandered in the arms race instead of to confront this and other pandemics, such as hunger and poverty.
Hassan Diab, President of the Council of Ministers of Lebanon, said that the pandemic hit his country just as it was addressing unprecedented financial and socioeconomic crises — only to be followed by the devastating Beirut port explosion on 4 August, which prompted a second nationwide lockdown. “The Lebanese public are forced into deciding if they die due to the coronavirus or out of poverty,” he said, explaining that Lebanon is unable to get enough external financing due to its debt status.
J.V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, said that today’s summit session is a long-awaited opportunity to break the hold of COVID-induced nationalism that has crippled a global response to the crisis. “It was with a sick sense of irony that in the year the United Nations marked its seventy-fifth anniversary, countries hoarded critical health supplies […] leaving many brave frontline health workers vulnerable,” he said, calling for radical reform and the democratization of global governance institutions to confront both COVID-19 and the climate emergency.
Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that the challenge now is to deal with increasing cases of the virus and save nations from economic ruin. The only way to accomplish this is to increase access to additional liquidity, he said, emphasizing that amounts generated to date are far from satisfying the needs of developing countries in recovering from the pandemic.
Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia, said that as an active member of the WHO Executive Board, his country is advocating for universal access to vaccines and treatments. He acknowledged the immense work undertaken by WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) based on science and focused on people and reaffirmed Colombia’s commitment to a sustainable recovery that leads to more resilient societies.
At the outset of the meeting, the Assembly observed a minute of silence for all victims of the pandemic, including those in the United Nations family.
The Assembly has held 30 special sessions between 1947 and 2016, the first on the question of Palestine and the last on the global drug problem.
Also speaking were Heads of State and Government and Ministers of Malawi, Turkey, Switzerland, Honduras, Azerbaijan (is his national capacity and on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Botswana, Monaco, Iraq, Marshall Islands, Kenya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Angola, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guyana, Suriname, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Latvia, Estonia, Serbia, Venezuela, Philippines, Nauru, Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Tuvalu, Djibouti, Belize, Zimbabwe, Italy, Republic of Korea, Andorra, Croatia, Nepal, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Bangladesh, Saint Lucia, Belgium, Mauritius, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Sweden, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Spain, Japan, Kuwait, Trinidad and Tobago, Republic of Moldova, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Albania, Congo, Algeria, Togo, Jordan, Malta, Bulgaria, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Mexico (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Hungary, Slovakia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Myanmar, Greece, Czech Republic, Iran, Maldives, Turkmenistan, San Marino, Oman, Côte d´Ivoire, Brazil, Senegal, Liechtenstein, Egypt, Rwanda, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation and Austria, as well as the President of the European Council of the European Union.
The General Assembly will reconvene on Friday, 4 December, at 9 a.m. to continue its special session, including interactive panel discussions on the United Nations system response to the pandemic, the road to a vaccine and resilience and recovering better from COVID-19, followed by the conclusion of its general debate.
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, opened the Assembly’s special session on COVID‑19, the first ever to address a pandemic. It marks an overdue and much‑needed moment of reckoning, he said, emphasizing that the pandemic has challenged the world in ways unlike any other crisis in the 75‑year history of the United Nations. The pandemic is first and foremost a global health crisis, but it is also an economic, development, humanitarian and human rights crisis, leaving the world facing its deepest recession since the Great Depression and an increase in global extreme poverty for the first time in more than 20 years. The global development trajectory has been hijacked and there is a grave risk that half the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals will be spent getting back to where the world was at the start of 2020. The pandemic has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable members of society, he said, underscoring the impact of the coronavirus on human rights, education, health care and the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons.
Describing the Assembly as “the voice, will and conscience of humanity”, he said that the world is looking to the United Nations for leadership. “This crisis compels us to shake up how things are done, to be bold and to restore trust in the United Nations.” This is not a time to point fingers, but to forge a path forward and to end the suffering of the people that the Organization serves. The international community was not prepared for COVID‑19, but it must be prepared for the next pandemic, climate catastrophe or global recession, he said, adding that its response should not simply target a return to the status quo.
Going forward, the international community must act multilaterally to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines, he said. International financial institutions and partner countries must ease debt burdens, facilitate investment and leverage development assistance. Social inclusion projects must be developed and universal health coverage ensured. Investment towards the Goals can serve as a means and an end towards post‑COVID recovery. Environmental root causes must also be addressed, he said, emphasizing that COVID‑19 is a zoonotic disease that originated from animal populations under severe environmental pressure. “We simply have to protect biodiversity and look towards a green recovery.” In addition, policies to combat the pandemic must not undermine democratic institutions or human rights.
If properly planned and coordinated, the largest socioeconomic recovery since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 can jumpstart the Sustainable Development Goals, speed up action on resilient infrastructure, improve access to education and health care, and better protect the natural world, he said. Right now, everyone is dreaming of the day the pandemic is over, and while it is easy to feel frustrated, the peoples of the world must not be deterred. “The United Nations is working for you. We are united for you. Stay strong. There are brighter days ahead.”
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, underscoring the enormous global impact of COVID‑19, said that factual information and scientific guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) should have been the basis for a coordinated global response. However, its recommendations were not followed, and today some countries are still rejecting facts and ignoring guidance, “and when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction”. Vaccines may become available in a matter of weeks or months, but they cannot undo damage that will stretch across the years and decades to come. “It is time for a reset. As we build a strong recovery, we must seize the opportunity for change,” he said.
Since March, the United Nations system has focused on helping countries avoid the worst impacts of the pandemic while also working for a strong recovery, he said. A vaccine must be made available to everyone, everywhere, with the Access to COVID‑19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility being tools to achieve that goal. He renewed his call for a global ceasefire so that countries can focus on fighting the novel coronavirus and appealed for fresh efforts to Silence the Guns in Africa by the end of 2020. The response to his call for peace in homes around the world and an end to violence against women and girls has been encouraging, he said, while the United Nations remains strongly engaged in combatting misinformation online through its Verified initiative.
Underscoring the United Nations appeal for a stimulus package worth at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) as well as debt relief for all States that need it, he welcomed steps taken so far to help developing countries. “But they are totally insufficient for the scale of this crisis,” he said, with many low- and middle‑income developing countries forced to choose between debt servicing and providing basic services to their citizens. Hopefully, Group of 20 (G20) debt initiatives will be expanded to include all vulnerable developing countries, but in the longer term, a reformed global architecture is needed to enhance debt transparency and sustainability.
Looking ahead, he said the post‑pandemic recovery must address pre-existing conditions ranging from gaps in basic services to the climate emergency. Stronger health systems and universal health coverage must be a priority and social safety nets must work for everybody. A new social contract could tackle the roots of inequality through fair taxation, universal benefits and opportunities for all. New investments must lay the groundwork for sustainable development and carbon neutrality, in line with the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. “We cannot bequeath a broken planet and huge debts to future generations. The money we spend on recovery must go into building a greener, fairer future,” he said. As this difficult year draws to a close, the international community must resolve to take tough, ambitious decisions and actions that will lead to better days ahead.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered health, economic and above all humanitarian crises, with global infections reaching 65 million and 1.5 million deaths. The economic statistics are equally devastating, with global contraction of 5 per cent, five countries having defaulted on debt requirements, 20 facing severe food insecurity, 300 million jobs lost, and 100 million people pushed back into extreme poverty. “The world’s response must be equally bold,” he said. The international community must ensure a vaccine is made available to everyone everywhere, rich or poor, on an equitable basis, with health workers, the ill and infirm, women and children given priority access. Advance purchases of any eventual vaccine must not undermine commitment to equitable distribution, he said. In that context, the COVAX Facility is indispensable, and Governments are called to commit to transparency on development and provision of a vaccine.
He noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has advised that Governments to spend as much as needed to keep their people alive and economies afloat. However, developing countries do not have the resources to address the crisis, and a speaker from his national Government will propose an emergency plan for them later in the special session. An economic collapse or humanitarian disaster among the developing countries will halt a global recovery, and “achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals will turn into a chimera” he added. Science and technology, research and the international patent regime must help build back better and be in line with achievement of the Goals. “This is the time for an expression of international solidarity, to turn nice words into concrete and specific actions,” he said.
ILHAM HEYDAR OGLU ALIYEV, President of Azerbaijan, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the multifaceted repercussions of the pandemic extend to the health, social, economic and financial spheres and disrupt societies due to devastating effects on livelihoods. Azerbaijan, as the Movement’s Chair, convened the “United Against COVID‑19” summit in May through which a task force and database were created to help Non-Aligned Movement Member States meet their populations’ need in the face of the pandemic.
“The Non‑Aligned Movement praises the activities of the United Nations system in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic,” he declared, also voicing his support for the guidance, training, equipment and concrete life‑saving services provided by WHO. He said the poorest and most vulnerable countries have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic as he expressed concern that the crisis will reverse hard‑fought development gains across the world. The pandemic is also exacerbating pre‑existing impediments to development such as unequal trade mechanisms and coercive unilateral measures.
Stressing the need to ensure affordable, unhindered and equitable access by all countries to medicines and medical equipment needed to address the pandemic, he said that safe and effective vaccines must be considered global public goods. “It is through a coordinated and concerted global response based on unity, multilateral cooperation, solidarity and respect for human rights that the international community can craft strategies to mitigate the pandemic,” he concluded.
CHARLES MICHEL, President of the European Council, said the United Nations is the ideal place for the international community to consider the lessons of the pandemic and draw up plans for a stronger future. “We knew that the world could potentially be struck by a major pandemic. And yet we were caught unprepared,” he pointed out, adding that despite this, there has also been a monumental achievement: vaccines have been developed in less than a year, rather than the 10 years generally needed. The European Union, he said, has been at the forefront of this unprecedented mobilization of global cooperation involving the scientific community and industry and public authorities. Noting the Union’s pledging marathon that raised nearly €16 billion in funds for research, he stressed that the bloc also intends to play its part in facilitating the equitable distribution of vaccines.
In order to build on this collective capacity to anticipate, prepare for and manage such crises, he said, “I propose that we do so through an international treaty on pandemics.” Such a treaty should be agreed within the framework of the World Health Organization (WHO) and aim to monitor risks and develop knowledge of the emergence of infectious diseases. It would also aim for better finance and research coordination, he said, adding that the WHO ACT‑Accelerator should serve as a model for developing a rapid scientific and industrial response capacity. Other aims of this proposed treaty would include sharing information effectively and improving access to health care. Guaranteed access to vaccines, treatment and tests for future pandemics should be laid down in a treaty, he said, adding that this is a health issue, but also one linked to the functioning of international trade.
LAZARUS CHAKWERA, President of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, noted that least developed States will suffer the worst of the devastation caused by the pandemic, with 35 per cent of the populations of those nations already living in poverty before the crisis. COVID‑19 is a multidimensional crisis that will have a great impact on poverty, education and other areas, that threatens to reverse hard earned achievements towards the 2030 Agenda. The share of least developed countries’ exports has sharply detracted, and Government revenues decline as social spending increases. As a result, most least developed countries will default on their debt payments. It is in that context that the Group has proposed an immediate relief package to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic. The international community must work to ensure fair distribution of vaccines. That will require collaboration between countries, civil society and multilateral stakeholders. Turning back to debt restructuring for least developed countries, he called for a full cancellation for that group’s debt and an activation of relief finance mechanisms from IMF. In addition, development partners must fulfil their commitment of official development assistance (ODA), he stressed.
RECEP TAYYİP ERDOĞAN, President of Turkey, reported that his country is supporting countries and regions suffering from issues related to food security in pandemic circumstances and is conducting training programmes in some developing countries for the production of personal protective equipment using local resources. In addition, Turkey is trying to provide budget support to some countries facing economic difficulties due to COVID‑19. Of Turkey’s 16 vaccine research studies, 12 are on the list of WHO and the phase of human trials has begun. Measures to combat the pandemic must be inclusive, and attention must be paid to the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, he stressed. Expressing support for the debt relief initiative launched by the G20 platform, he called on the Assembly to accelerate efforts, including the development of sustainable supply chains and distribution networks, to ensure the transition to the “new normal”.
SIMONETTA SOMMARUGA, President of Switzerland, noting that her country is the host of the operational heart of the United Nations as well as WHO in Geneva, reaffirmed its commitment to the unique value of multilateralism and called for a coordinated approach. The pandemic shows the links between the economy and health, she pointed out, adding that it is essential to invest in strengthening health‑care systems to prevent these kinds of crises in the future. Calling on Member States to invest in prevention, she underscored that despite the imminent arrival of the vaccine, the world must not go back to the situation before the crisis. Protecting the health of everyone is a common responsibility, she said, stressing the need to strengthen international health regulations. Switzerland supports research and development for a vaccine that will be safe, accessible and fairly distributed across the world, she said, voicing support for the ACT‑Accelerator programme and the global response to the economic and social aspects of the crisis.
JUAN ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ, President of Honduras, said 2020 has been an intense year and the COVID‑19 pandemic has the largest impact on those with less resources. Noting that his country has taken measures early and slowed down the spread of the virus, he voiced concern over the economic impact of the pandemic. Honduras is located in a high‑risk area with regard to climate change, he said, drawing attention to two devastating hurricanes that have recently affected almost half the population. Honduras — although paying the bill — is not responsible for climate change, he stressed, adding that responsibility falls on industrialized countries. A lot of roads, bridges, hospitals, public and private buildings have been destroyed, he noted, pointing to the most vulnerable, especially those in conflict areas. Stressing the importance of ensuring a global access to medication, he thanked the COVID‑19 recovery fund aimed at strengthening health‑care systems and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund which has provided support to Honduras. Middle‑income countries like Honduras are particularly vulnerable to climate change, as demonstrated by lengthy droughts, he warned, calling for rapid action in this area.
ILHAM HEYDAR OGLU ALIYEV, President of Azerbaijan, speaking in his national capacity, said his country is taking necessary preventive measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, with services being provided through 46 state hospitals and 40 laboratories. The Government is also implementing a socioeconomic and financial support package worth $2.5 billion that has reached half of the country’s population. As the world enters a new wave of the pandemic, Azerbaijan remains engaged with WHO and continues to provide assistance to over 30 countries. He closed by voicing support for the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire to allow for the provision of humanitarian assistance during the pandemic and called on Armenia to observe the call and not disrupt efforts to mitigate the health crisis.
KAIS SAIED, President of Tunisia, said that since the start of the pandemic, his country has stressed the importance of a coordinated international response based on solidarity that considers the needs of both countries and peoples. As a non‑permanent member of the Security Council, Tunisia, in coordination with France, introduced resolution 2532 (2020), which was unanimously adopted on 1 July. That text made it possible to expand the concept of collective security to include a public health dimension. A plan is still needed that responds to the needs of everyone involved, including a genuine surge of solidarity to ease debt burden. He stressed the need to ensure equitable access to a vaccine as soon as it is available, and for priorities in the area of international cooperation to be redefined to reflect these extraordinary circumstances.
MIGUEL MARIO DÍAZ-CANEL BERMÚDEZ, President of Cuba, observed that the pandemic has exacerbated the serious problems that humanity had already faced before the outbreak of this disease. Noting the predictions for the worst economic recession since the Second World War, he said the brunt of the crisis will be borne by the countries of the South: “Under the present circumstances, the establishment of a just, democratic and equitable international order is an imperative. It is a condition for the survival of the species in an ever more interconnected and paradoxically unequal world.” Given the severe crisis, new outbreaks and the collapse of health services in prosperous countries, he wondered why the enormous budget that some States have access to is currently being squandered in the arms race instead of to confront this and other pandemics, such as hunger and poverty. Cuba, for its part, has implemented a Government management system based on science and innovation, which has strengthened interconnections between areas as knowledge, production and social services.
FRANCISCO RAFAEL SAGASTI HOCHHAUSLER, President of Peru, said the world is witnessing renewed outbreaks of the pandemic, forcing the international community to increase efforts to develop solutions together. The crisis has highlighted inequalities, reversing years of progress with poverty levels increasing for the first time this century. In this unprecedented situation, he said all States are confronting two crises at once, the pandemic and the slow‑motion disaster of climate change. However, the world is presented with the opportunity to implement innovative solutions. Reiterating an appeal to declare COVID vaccines as global public goods with universal, timely and equitable access for all, he noted Peru joined the COVAX Facility and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). In the current context, the international community must work to bridge the multilateralism divide, as crises require global responses. He also called for building more just, sustainable societies, prioritizing health care, food security, gender equality and bridging the knowledge gap, as global inequality in science is much greater than in income or wealth.
LUIS ARCE, President of Bolivia, said individual, isolated efforts will not resolve the sanitary efforts required to combat COVID‑19. He went on to recall that the political crisis that unfolded in Bolivia in November led to a deterioration of the economy that has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Indeed, Latin American and Caribbean GDPs are predicted to drop by 9.1 per cent, leading to an increase in poverty. His country is making special efforts to procure and provide safe vaccines to 3 million Bolivians in the first quarter of 2021, he reported, adding that the cooperation of the international community will be essential to accomplish that goal. The eradication of extreme poverty remains a top priority for Bolivia. Solutions with a systemic approach that consider the price of raw materials, international trade, fiscal receipts and other factors must be found. In that context, developing States are at risk of taking on too much debt in the face of the pandemic, he warned, calling for international financing mechanisms to ease the debt burden for those countries.
LENÍN BOLTAIRE MORENO GARCÉS (Ecuador), stressing that not all countries have the same capacity to respond effectively to the pandemic, called for solidarity to those economies that are least developed and to middle- and low‑income countries. It is fundamental that donor countries intensify their efforts to provide development assistance, he said, thanking those who have already done so. Also highlighting the need for support from international financial organizations, he said the support received by Ecuador made it possible for the country to face the most difficult days of this pandemic. Today, its economy is reactivating, thanks to loans which enabled the country to protect jobs. The history of humanity will have a “before COVID” and an “after COVID”, he said, pointing out that unfortunately the “after” will include poverty, unemployment and inequality if the international community does not mobilize technological and economic resources. Noting that technology is the basis for access to telemedicine, tele‑education and teleworking, he voiced support for WHO, and called for support for especially vulnerable segments, such as women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples and migrants.
MOKGWEETSI ERIC KEABETSWE MASISI, President of Botswana pointed to the surge in local cases and stressed the need to protect people from the harsh effect of COVID‑19. The enormity of the scourge has necessitated the adoption of robust public health interventions to enhance preventive initiatives aimed at minimizing the impact of the virus on developing economies. Botswana has taken measures such as early detection and diagnosis, and restricted and advised against unnecessary travel within and outside the country, he said, expressing concern over negative economic consequences, particularly on small business. To mitigate these negative impacts, especially on trade and tourism, Botswana decided to open its border from 1 December. With regards to ensuring access to water and sanitation, he stressed that COVID‑19 has further exposed Botswana’s overreliance on imported food and other commodities, including critical oil resources. Botswana is fortunate to have the full support of its neighbours to ensure continuity of trade across borders. The leadership shown at the United Nations, especially WHO, has been critical in ensuring technical assistance for health workers, he noted, reiterating his country’s appeal for continued assistance, particularly for ensuring availability of personal protective equipment (PPE). Despite these measures, the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable cannot be ignored, he said, pointing to higher rates of gender‑based violence and expressing support for the Secretary‑General’s appeal for an immediate global ceasefire.
PRINCE ALBERT II of Monaco said that like several other European countries, the principality has been affected by the second wave of the pandemic. Its Government is tracking the virus daily to ensure that the health‑care system is not overloaded. Monaco is mobilizing to ensure equitable access to vaccines, including through the ACT‑Accelerator programme led by WHO and its partners. Going forward, the world must build more solid health systems and be better prepared for future pandemics. With around 60 per cent of infectious human diseases being zoonotic, a preventive approach based on the protection of biodiversity and the environment is required. He went on to note that women are most impacted by the consequences of the pandemic, with a growing number becoming victims of intolerable domestic violence. COVID‑19 is rudely testing the multilateral system, he said, adding that it is a unique opportunity to build a world of solidarity and resilience.
BARHAM SALIH, President of Iraq, said the session presented an important opportunity to continue collective efforts to address the unprecedented crisis, as “we really are one family in our suffering under this pandemic.” If the virus continues to spread in one village, it threatens the whole of humanity, with collective suffering requiring collective solutions. As access to vaccines and their distribution are priorities for all, he urged the international community to limit the intrusion of trade aspects and political divergences. Developed countries must also consider the financial capacities of less developed States, including those without a viable means of transport or distribution. As Iraq has endured 17 years of ongoing war against terrorism, a previous dictatorship damaging institutions including hospitals, and dropping oil prices, he expressed hope that friendly countries will stand “shoulder to shoulder”, taking the country’s circumstances into account. Relatively speaking, Iraq has contained ravages of the pandemic, but it remains a constant threat to that society. While a vaccine is important, he said it is not enough, as the international community must develop strict policies to protect the environment.
DAVID KABUA, President of the Marshall Islands, associating himself with the Pacific small island developing States, said the pandemic has had a severe impact on his country’s fisheries, also restricting imports and nearly stopping air travel. While the Marshall Islands continues to meet the challenge posed by COVID‑19, it will not be able to sustain the effort for a long period of time. All nations should use the crisis as an opportunity to reduce emissions and boost resilience to climate impacts. As for the equitable distribution of vaccines, he called the international community to ensure that no one is left behind. It is especially important that the most vulnerable populations get open and accountable access to vaccines and medical attention. Partners in the Pacific region are committed to assisting neighbouring countries in that regard. However, the entire international community must take the time to understand the unique challenges of Pacific island developing countries, he said.
UHURU KENYATTA, President of Kenya, noting that his country, like many others, has been greatly affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic, said the virus has spread to all his nation’s 47 counties, with a total number of 81,102 cases and 1,427 deaths. Thirty‑one of these were health‑care workers, heroes who paid the ultimate price so that tens of thousands of others would live, he said, as he outlined his Government’s multi-agency approach to the pandemic. A National Emergency Response Committee comprising various State agencies was established to provide direction and a Public Health Emergency Operations Centre was put in place to undertake daily disease monitoring, contact tracing and coordination. The Government has instituted several containment and mitigation measures and introduced a guideline on the proper use of face masks for all persons in public areas. Further, in response to the World Health Assembly’s call for the development of a “One Vaccine for All”, Kenya’s scientists joined their regional, continental and global colleagues in humanity’s quest for an effective vaccine. Calling on countries to remove barriers to access to diagnosis and care for those who need it, he underscored the need to increase investment in protecting health workers.
MILORAD DODIK, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, calling for international solidarity and coordinated global action in order to achieve a final victory over this modern-day plague, said the pandemic is a global health challenge that requires a global response. His country’s response to the pandemic included measures introduced by relevant institutions, the efforts of health professionals and responsible behaviour of citizens and communities. It has also benefited from strong international cooperation, he said, noting the strong support of WHO, the European Commission and the European Center for Disease Prevention, as well as many donor countries. Financial support is a key aspect of solidarity, he stressed, noting the economic fallout of the pandemic on his country. Noting also the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on female workers and business owners, he drew attention to the challenges posed by the pandemic in other walks of life, including security. In particular, Bosnia and Herzegovina is tackling increased production and trafficking in drugs, illegal migration and smuggling in the country’s territory, he noted.
JOÃO MANUEL GONÇALVES LOURENÇO, President of Angola, said that at the outset of the pandemic, the country trained response and monitoring teams to strengthen its capacity to identify outbreaks. COVID‑19‑specific health centres have been created to increase the availability of hospital beds, including in intensive care units, and community transmission is only occurring in the capital. Angola has not lost sight of its development needs, he said, noting that more than $164 million was recently directed at poverty‑alleviation programmes and social services. However, further resources are needed to ensure equitable access to a vaccine.
ASHRAF GHANI, President of Afghanistan, said the Government is mitigating the pandemic through policies that will not have long‑term negative effects on livelihoods or increase poverty and food insecurity. However, the true long‑term impact of the pandemic remains unclear, especially as countries failed to develop a united response strategy at its outset. “The pandemic has exacerbated existing gaps and inequalities across developed and developing nations,” he observed. These gaps will become increasingly apparent once efforts to distribute a vaccine are under way, he added, noting that such efforts require capabilities and infrastructure that poor countries lack.
FÉLIX ANTOINE TSHISEKEDI TSHILOMBO, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that since his country saw its first case of COVID‑19 on 10 March, it has seen a total of 12,469 confirmed cases and 133 deaths. The impact of the pandemic has been felt in several sectors, with 79 per cent of the poorest households affected by reduced incomes and rising food prices. Describing its national strategy, he said the authorities promptly took ownership of the crisis at the highest level, declaring a six‑month public health emergency, closing borders and imposing strict confinement measures. However, since October, there has been an increase in cases and hospitalizations that could be explained by laxity and the resumption of air traffic with countries where COVID‑19 is raging. Going forward, the Government is considering stronger measures to mitigate the negative ramifications of a second wave. He went on to say that at a region summit in Goma, his country proposed a cross‑border plan for combatting the coronavirus.
MOHAMED IRFAAN ALI, President of Guyana, told the Assembly that United Nations coronavirus mitigation efforts constitute “one of history’s greatest rescue missions.” He called on the Organization to continue in the forefront of response efforts in piloting the roll‑out of mass immunization for developing countries. Recognizing the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on children, he pledged to close the digital divide to ensure children have access to education, improve primary care for children and eradicate childhood poverty. He concluded by noting that the pandemic calls for a change in global relations to allow for the effective transfer of resources to developing countries.
MATAMELA CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, President of South Africa, said the fortunes of nations are intertwined, as evinced by the coordinated international response to the pandemic. This has particularly impacted developing economies, which still shoulder the burdens of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. South Africa has responded to the crisis by establishing emergency relief measures to support distressed households and businesses, now moving to return the economy to growth and job creation. He noted the African Union has led a targeted, deliberate response on the continent, establishing a fund to help economies recover. Other initiatives include an African medical supplies platform to provide critical equipment and supplies, a vaccine acquisition task force and a green stimulus programme. As African countries will need continued support, he called for the international community to launch a comprehensive economic stimulus package, suspend debt interest payments and lift all economic sanctions on Zimbabwe and Sudan to aid their recovery. The international community must drive a holistic pandemic response, he said, linking health, economic and environmental initiatives.
CHANDRIKAPERSAD SANTOKHI, President of Suriname, associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and the Non‑Aligned Movement, stressed the need to enhance multilateralism and international cooperation. Noting the pandemic’s effects not only on public health, but also on social protection and education, he said that various production sectors are under tremendous pressure. His Government has taken several measures to prevent the further spread of the virus, he said, noting the closing of air and maritime borders, except for repatriation flights, closing of schools, temporary restriction on movement, awareness‑raising campaigns to alert the public, as well as emergency measures to address the social and economic effects of the pandemic. Highlighting his Government’s targeted economic measures to support vulnerable groups and businesses, he pointed out that these were put in place despite limited financial means due to the country’s immense financial macroeconomic imbalances as well as a heavy debt portfolio. Calling for an integrated response that considers the needs of middle‑income countries, he welcomed the initiative proposed by Canada and Jamaica on financing for development in the era of COVID‑19 and beyond.
IVÁN DUQUE MÁRQUEZ, President of Colombia, said that his country took the right decisions at the right time. It was the first in Latin America to establish local diagnostic testing capacity, in addition to doubling the number of intensive care units. It also sought to mitigate the socioeconomic impact through programmes that have reached 10 million households. As an active member of the WHO Executive Board, Colombia is advocating for universal access to vaccines and treatments, he said, acknowledging the immense work undertaken by WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) based on science and focused on people. He went on to reaffirm his country’s commitment to strengthening global governance and to promote a sustainable recovery that leads to more resilient societies.
MILO ĐUKANOVIĆ, President of Montenegro, noting that the spread of the pathogen has brought the global economy to its deepest recession since the Second World War, said, “The most affected are the most vulnerable members of society.” He warned the Assembly that responses are putting rights and freedoms under pressure. To avoid further destabilization, Member States must seize the opportunity to bring about a fairer, more resilient world through the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. “Effective coordination, investments that rely on science and technology, and timely communication aimed at strengthening trust are of decisive importance,” he stressed.
STEVO PENDAROVSKI, President of North Macedonia, noting his Government recently declared a state of crisis for 20 days and engaged the army and private health sector to control the spread of the virus, said that the pandemic is an opportunity for the international community to demonstrate unity, solidarity and multilateral cooperation. Observing the pandemic also poses a moral challenge, he said saving human lives must take precedence. The spread of COVID‑19 must not be controlled at the expense of fundamental rights and freedoms. In addition, societies must not tolerate the spread of the viruses of racism and xenophobia. As health products should be made available and affordable to all, the COVAX Facility is a step in the right direction.
EGILS LEVITS, President of Latvia, paying tribute to the global medical community and scientists, said that his country has financially contributed to the global humanitarian response plan for COVID‑19. As well, Latvian scientists are actively participating in vaccine development. The Government took quick and decisive action to ensure contact tracing, social distancing and testing availability. Outlining various digital solutions put in place to limit economic losses while safeguarding public health, he highlighted an e-Parliament platform that enables the Government to meet online. The nationally endorsed contact tracing app is compatible with other European contact tracing initiatives, he said, stressing the critical need to counter misinformation and enhance access to reliable, science‑based information.
KERSTI KALJULAID, President of Estonia, said that universal and equitable access to a vaccine must be the global priority, alongside solidarity and a stronger multilateral system. Pointing out that her country is the world’s first digitally‑transformed nation, she said that technologies can be great equalizers, with data making it possible to better identify people in need and to make informed policy decisions. “We must build a global trust architecture together, with the World Health Organization as its anchor,” she said, adding that other global challenges have not gone away. The percentage of the world’s children receiving all the vaccinations recommended by WHO has fallen back to 70 per cent, the same point where it was 25 years ago. The impact on health from the climate crisis, ecological degradation, pollution and climate instability must also be understood.
ALEKSANDAR VUČIĆ, President of Serbia, said the pandemic confirms the need to strengthen the role of the United Nations and its organizations and agencies, including WHO. As sustainable development and health care go hand-in-hand, the European Union must work together within the United Nations system, including laying the foundations for green and sustainable development. Serbia is allocating a universal, equal approach to vaccines and therapeutics, he said, expressing hope that the COVAX Facility will distribute 2 billion doses of a vaccine by the end of 2021. In addition, the devastating consequences of the global recession require mobilization of bigger and more flexible support through international financial institutions. As well, his Government places a special focus on gender equality, as demonstrated by a Parliament being led for a second time by a woman.
EMMANUEL MACRON, President of France, proposing a donation mechanism to ensure that a portion of the first vaccines doses are used to vaccinate priority groups in developing countries, he said these doses — whether they come from Europe, China, Russia or the United States and whether they result from donations from States or pharmaceutical companies — would be allocated effectively and fairly, on the basis of WHO recommendations. Inviting all States to build this mechanism together, he also stressed that vaccines will not be enough. Unless primary health systems are strengthened in the most vulnerable countries, and unless health workers everywhere are trained, the overall health response will remain suboptimal. Voicing support for the establishment of a WHO Academy in Lyon, which will train health workers from all over the world, he called for an intermediate alert system as well as a review of the International Health Regulations. Also voicing support for the creation of a One Health Council of high‑level experts tasked with collecting and disseminating the scientific information on the links between human, animal and environmental health, he stressed that the pandemic must not become a pretext for eroding human rights and the rule of law.
NICOLÁS MADURO MOROS, President of Venezuela, paying tribute to the more than 1.3 million people who lost their lives to the disease, emphasized that the international community must honour them by improving health systems and ensuring that such systems are high quality and available to all. He highlighted Venezuela’s response to COVID‑19, which in spite of criminal aggression and permanent threat, has put all its resources on the line to serve the people. Of the approximately 100,000 positive cases in Venezuela, 95 per cent have recovered; the fatality rate of 0.87 per cent is perhaps one of the lowest in the region and the world. Some countries of the global North are politicizing the pandemic, using it as an opportunity for hegemony, he said, adding that a freeze on Venezuelan funds in the United States and Europe is preventing his country from purchasing medicine and medical equipment. It is time for the major powers to lift those illegal criminal measures. More so, any vaccines must be declared a global public good by the United Nations and WHO. For its part, Venezuela has presented WHO with details of a coronavirus antigen with curative properties, which, once approved, can be produced on a large scale.
RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE, President of the Philippines, said the first priority must be to improve the capacity of health systems. Without a cure, the international community can only delay the spread of the disease. As well, lifesaving services and products must be made accessible to the most vulnerable. No country must be excluded due to poverty or strategic unimportance. Such gross injustice will haunt the world and discredit the values upon which United Nations was funded. Voicing support for a global health agenda with adequate resourcing, he said his country will do its part and will contribute to the pooling of global resources to help other countries without preconditions. The collective initiatives launched by the United Nations and other multilateral frameworks are the international community’s best chance to defeat COVID‑19, he said, also voicing support for the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire.
LIONEL ROUWEN AINGIMEA, President of Nauru, noted his country remains free of COVID‑19. Nauru heeded the lessons of the past that an outbreak in another part of the world could have collateral catastrophic effect. His Government had expressed its concern that the WHO response was too slow. The United Nations must improve coordination with smaller countries as the pandemic has exposed the inadequacies of the Pacific Multi‑Country Office system, he said, calling for a new office in the Federated States of Micronesia to target and coordinate responses in the north Pacific Ocean. Deploying a capture-and-contain policy, Nauru created a national COVID‑19 task force, securing its borders while having an open‑border policy in place. Travelers underwent a mandatory polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test 72 hours before travel, undertook five days of quarantine upon arrival, and were tested again to ensure the results were negative before being released. Although the country has no capacity to participate in virus research, it remains vigilant on preventing its spread. He stressed that climate change remains an existential threat, with a clear need for a multilateral response.
RAQUEL PENA (Dominican Republic) reported that her country is working on mitigating the virus by flattening the curve of infection and fatality rates. Those successful results are linked to the implementation of the Strategic Plan to respond to the pandemic developed by WHO and PAHO, she said. The Dominican Republic has rolled out 70,000 COVID‑19 tests, delivered medical kits and personal protective equipment throughout the country and the national laboratory has the capacity to produce 10,000 tests per day. The economic crisis has revealed the importance of interconnected economies, especially in terms of trade and the technical transition businesses were forced to undergo. For its part, the Dominican Republic has rolled out incentives to keep consumption local. She went on to call for enhanced efforts to promote the sustainable development of developing nations and to provide them with the tools needed to rebuild.
XAVIER BETTEL, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Children, warned that if swift action is not taken, there could be a lost generation of children. Even before the pandemic, programmes to advance child rights globally were falling short. Now, as a result of the virus, children are cut off from key support services while they are being subjected to added stress in fragile households, especially for girls. The international community must commit to providing financing to protect and promote child rights by investing in services and systems they need to continue learning and to stay safe. Furthermore, children must be engaged as solution creators.
Speaking in his national capacity, he welcomed the progress made on the production of multiple vaccines and emphasized the importance of the international community working together to combat the effects of the virus. To that end, Luxembourg has donated to various international efforts addressing the pandemic, he said, adding that WHO remains the best suited organization to respond to the crisis. Underscoring the need for equitable access to the COVID‑19 vaccine, he reported that his country has contributed to the COVAX Facility and will continue to support all international efforts in that regard.
KAUSEA NATANO, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, stressed the importance of overcoming new and old challenges to the Pacific and global community. His region faces the effects of COVID‑19, climate change, and, consequently, fragile economic health. COVID‑19 puts pressure on health systems around the world. Unprecedented containment measures, while saving lives, restrict links between countries and the world, he said, calling for distribution of essential medical supplies. Global response to COVID‑19 has had a devastating impact on the Pacific economy, and existing inequalities are deepening. Now, more than ever, multilateralism is needed and must be a cornerstone of regional and global efforts to alleviate the impact of the pandemic, particularly on the most vulnerable, he said, calling for the highest quality of health care for all.
ISMAËL OMAR GUELLEH, Prime Minister of Djibouti, voicing concern that the pandemic is jeopardizing development goals, urged the international community to help countries deal with COVID‑19 and overcome the humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences that are potentially catastrophic. Expressing his appreciation for the decisive leadership role played by WHO, he welcomed the recent encouraging news from the scientific community and added his support for the COVAX initiatives for global and equitable access to vaccines for COVID‑19. He also added his support for the call by countries that certain rules be waived in order to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccines.
JOHN BRICENO, Prime Minister of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called for new diagnostics, drugs and future vaccines to combat the COVID‑19 pandemic, making them available to all those in need, especially developing countries. Despite their best efforts and exhaustion of available resources, the pandemic has forced small island developing States to their knees, he stressed. Health systems are struggling with no prospects in sight for short‑term recovery of economies, leaving people to face uncertain futures.
Small island States are constantly chasing behind in building resilient societies and addressing emergency situations, he continued. COVID‑19 did not place them in a difficult situation, but exposed one that already existed. Noting that resources in these islands are about to dry up, he called for an overhaul of the international financial system to address their challenges of indebtedness, limited fiscal space and vulnerability to market volatility. To emerge from the pandemic without tangible changes to the international financial system, allowing vulnerable nations access to resources they so desperately need, would be a complete loss.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, Prime Minister of Canada, called on Member States to unite and pursue global efforts that ensure full, equitable access to a potential vaccine. For its part, Canada is providing funding for COVAX to ensure low- and middle‑income countries have access to a vaccine. “The pandemic has taught us difficult lessons about inequality both at home and between countries,” he said, noting that advanced economies have spent 20 per cent of their GDP to support their citizens during the pandemic, while developing economies can only afford to spend 8 per cent. The poorest economies can only allocate 2 per cent of GDP for such initiatives. In response, Canada is increasing its international assistance while remaining mindful that efforts to rebuild the global economy must include investments to reduce emissions, build cleaner economies and create good middle‑class jobs.
EMMERSON DAMBUDZO MNANGAGWA, President of Zimbabwe, commended the omnibus resolution on the comprehensive and coordinated response to the coronavirus disease, which strongly urges States to refrain from promulgating and applying unilateral economic, financial or trade measures and sanctions. Such measures are detrimental to the positive strides Zimbabwe is making towards its national development aspirations. Further, they hamper the human rights of his country’s people, including the right to health and the right to development. He called for urgent efforts to be made to enhance cooperation to contain and mitigate the pandemic, for the open exchange of information and scientific knowledge. COVID‑19 vaccines and remedies, as a public good, must be accessible to all. Moreover, WHO must be supported, and multilateralism enhanced, in order to address gaps in pandemic preparedness. Countries’ plans and investments must be aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in a post‑COVID‑19 world.
GIUSEPPE CONTE, President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, stated that the pandemic has brought forth doubts about globalization and highlighted social and economic inequality. “We have the responsibility to improve global governance and make international cooperation truly effective,” he declared, calling for efforts to strengthen global health governance and WHO. As the first Western country to be hit by the pandemic, Italy developed new crisis management mechanisms and quickly understood the merits of international cooperation. To that end, he called for increased support for the ACT‑Accelerator and COVAX Facility. Sustainable and inclusive responses to the pandemic must be grounded in human rights, he noted, denouncing discrimination, marginalization and social exclusion. “Our goal is to help restore the balance between people and nature and develop a cleaner, more equitable and healthier world.”
CHUNG SYE-KYUN, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, reflected on the success his country has seen in fighting the COVID‑19 pandemic, due in part to efforts communicating with and engaging citizens proactively to contain the virus and through innovative measures such as drive through treatment centres. As for the equitable distribution of a vaccine, the whole world must redouble collaborative efforts that leave no one behind, he said. The Republic of Korea is an active contributor to the COVAX Facility and will continue to champion international cooperation in that regard. The crisis has hit the most vulnerable people in the world the hardest, especially in developing countries, he warned, calling for international assistance to help those countries strengthen capacity and health‑care systems. Meanwhile, the Republic of Korea is adapting its national model of virus mitigation so other countries can implement it at home. He went on to suggest that the crisis offers an opportunity to transform the challenges into a springboard for progress and to build eco‑friendly and low carbon economies.
XAVIER ESPOT ZAMORA, Head of Government of Andorra, said that the second wave of the epidemic is not easier to manage, as the economic situation has already been made significantly weaker. Indeed, we are seeing an upheaval of our health systems and in economic and social fabric at a global level. This situation requires a global response, he said, welcoming the initiatives of the United Nations in response to the crisis, notably the global and humanitarian response to COVID‑19, the call of the Secretary‑General for a global ceasefire and the efforts to combat violence against women and domestic violence. He further welcomed the establishment of the Global Fund for the COVID‑19 response and supported the key role played by WHO. More than ever, it is important that no one is left behind, he said, stressing the importance of strengthening social cohesion within and between countries. Noting that the Government of Andorra has based its strategies on prevention, he said that its economy is largely dependent on tourism, a sector significantly affected by the pandemic. He called for maintaining high‑quality education to give children stability, underlining that education is one of the sectors that the Solidarity Fund must support.
ANDREJ PLENKOVIC, Prime Minister of Croatia, stressed the importance of global solidarity and multilateralism in combating the COVID‑19 pandemic, preserving the central role of the WHO as the leading authority and guardian of global public health. The Prime Minister, who tested positive for COVID‑19 on 30 November, noted that current rates of infections are creating additional pressure on health systems in most of Europe and the Northern Hemisphere with the onset of winter. However, several vaccines are ready to be approved, which gives reason for optimism. The next challenge will be how to ensure equitable and timely access to vaccines globally, he said, ensuring coordinated and clear communication on their efficacy and safety. The international response to this disease should include helping the people, protecting their health and economic well‑being as well as protecting the planet. His country, therefore, supports the One Health approach, as the new standard for overcoming this pandemic and future ones.
K.P. SHARMA OLI, Prime Minister of Nepal, said the COVID‑19 pandemic is an unspeakable tragedy that has claimed 1.3 million lives and led to severe suffering in all nations. It is a wake‑up call to widening inequalities and the need to live in harmony with nature. “We are all in the same firestorm,” he said. “Some may think we are well protected, but it is not so. The world is a small boat and we are all passengers.” While Nepal was not prepared for such a crisis, it employed all the resources at its disposal to strengthen the health‑care system and work towards a sustainable and resilient recovery. It has provided testing and treatment for free to the needy. It has extended PCR testing facilities, which were non‑existent, to 68 laboratories. Moreover, 70 hospitals have been designated as COVID‑19 hospitals. He commended the United Nations and WHO for their coordination and leadership during the crisis. He called for a revitalized multilateralism capable of tackling collective challenges, from climate crisis to poverty. The pandemic must not be used as a pretext for backtracking from commitments and solidarity. Countries need to safeguard fiscal space and tackle the debt crisis. While the news about vaccines is encouraging, it also leaves uncertainty about whether they will be accessible to all. He commended the COVAX Facility and said vaccines cannot be the means of maximizing profit. “The world will not be safe without universal access to vaccines,” he stressed.
KATRÍN JAKOBSDÓTTIR, Prime Minister of Iceland, said the pandemic has revealed the full value of health‑care systems that serve all, as well as a robust social system. “Crises test and reveal the strength of our foundations” she said, affirming that services must be available to every single person, not just a few privileged groups, with fair and equitable access to vaccines and treatments for all countries. She also pointed to another pandemic, gender‑based violence and the backlash on gender equality, with domestic violence and female poverty rising worldwide and sexual and reproductive rights under threat. Societies must resist and fight back to keep gender equality in the forefront of building back better after COVID‑19. The climate crisis has not disappeared, she added, and the time is now to lead by example for a cleaner and more socially‑just future.
JACINDA ARDERN, Prime Minister New Zealand, reported that her country’s domestic response was focused on prevention with a sustained approach to keeping the virus out of the country through extensive testing and contact tracing. Managing the border has also been a key tool in keeping COVID‑19 out, she said. New Zealand’s all-of-Government approach has involved all agencies, working together. However, no one is safe until everyone is safe, she cautioned. COVID‑19 highlights the world’s interdependence and the importance of international organizations like WHO. To prevent the worst effects of the pandemic, the world must endorse “vaccine multilateralism”. However, the socioeconomic effects will be ongoing and will require collective and concerted global action. In addition, societies must simultaneously focus on the well‑being of people and of the environment.
PRAYUT CHAN-O-CHA, Prime Minister of Thailand, said the emergence of the global pandemics over the past 20 years has led to the realization that the international community must join hands in promoting strong security systems in order to prepare for future emergency situations. The public should be protected under a universal health coverage scheme which will help countries mitigate negative social impacts and economic loss and allow for faster recovery from crises. Underlining the main factors in Thailand’s response to COVID‑19, he highlighted the strength of the country’s health system and its dedicated health workers. He stressed the importance of promoting basic preventive measures, as recommended by WHO — mask wearing, frequent hand washing and social distancing. Vaccines and medicines should be global public goods that are equally accessible to all. Thailand has launched a new norm for a health‑care system project in some provinces in order to better respond to future crises. The COVID‑19 pandemic represents a great challenge to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, he said, calling for a multisectoral approach to achieving all 17 Goals, including the health‑related target.
IMRAN KHAN, Prime Minister of Pakistan, noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic has so far killed 1.4 million people worldwide, stressed that future medicines, treatments and vaccines must be offered to all. Adding that the world is facing its deepest economic contraction since the 1930s, he said the poorest nations are suffering the most, possessing no resources to afford massive economic stimulus packages. The challenge now is to deal with increasing cases of the virus and save nations from economic ruin. The only way to accomplish this is to increase access to additional liquidity, he said, emphasizing that amounts generated to date are far from satisfying the needs of developing countries in recovering from the pandemic. He expressed hope that concrete action to address these concerns would soon occur through significant reform to the international financial architecture and the introduction of a fair debt regime.
ERNA SOLBERG, Prime Minister of Norway, said the world is going through its darkest hour, with deaths due to COVID‑19 surpassing 1.3 million, millions of children staying home from school, the economy losing as much as $500 million per month, the collapse of social systems and the despair of health workers. However, the news about vaccines provides a ray of light. She called for more diagnostic testing and for fair and global access to vaccines, stressing that the most vulnerable groups must be reached. She called for increased support for universal health care and COVID‑19 tools. Norway is the co‑chair of ACT‑Accelerator and has contributed $500 million to the effort. “More countries must contribute their share,” she said. She called for stronger international cooperation and strategy to prevent and respond to future disasters, including future pandemics. Leaders and stakeholders must work together on a master plan, and work with enhanced commitment to prevent such disasters, she said, supporting the Secretary‑General’s call for a global summit to address this.
SHEIKH HASINA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said the COVID‑19 pandemic has heavily impacted her country’s economy, livelihoods, migrant communities and jeopardized hard‑earned development gains. In response, Bangladesh announced stimulus packages worth $14.1 billion, equivalent to 4.3 per cent of its GDP, to minimize the impact on business, employment and productivity. It has also expanded social safety net coverage, providing assistance to more than 25 million people. Emphasizing the need to ensure universal, equitable, timely and affordable access to vaccines, she said distribution must be viewed as a global public good. The ACT‑Accelerator and COVAX Facility can play a vital role in that regard. In addition, developed countries should commit to technology transfer for the local manufacturing of vaccines in developing countries.
ALLEN MICHAEL CHASTANET, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, echoed calls for decisive action to assist small island developing States which were hit by the COVID‑19 pandemic while already reeling from the effects of climate change. “We are vulnerable countries pursuing our paths of development in a very hostile world,” he said, noting that Saint Lucia’s recent development gains vanished with the emergence of the pandemic. To ensure their sustainable development, small States must be given the opportunity to pursue sound development policy, he said, calling on global leaders to address the impact that reduced access to international banking and financial services has on such States.
ALEXANDER DE CROO, Prime Minister of Belgium, said the COVID‑19 pandemic has exposed fundamental vulnerabilities for individuals and the global community. The greatest danger is that it could divide countries in a “race to the bottom.” As such, he highlighted the importance of multilateralism in making real progress, including on a common vaccine strategy. “Belgium wants free and fair access to these vaccines for all countries,” he emphasized, calling for strengthened democracy in response to the pandemic in order to create a more inclusive civic space.
PRAVIND KUMAR JUGNAUTH, Prime Minister of Mauritius, said early detection mechanisms, the establishment of testing sites and the enforcement of social distancing and mask wearing have kept the spread of the coronavirus in check. However, border closures and lockdown orders have resulted in a 12 to 14 per cent contraction of the economy; assistance programmes are only having short‑term impacts. As such, he called for global assistance in the form of debt service relief and debt cancellation. Further, as vaccines go into production, it is crucial to ensure that they become accessible and available to all countries.
METTE FREDERIKSEN, Prime Minister of Denmark, said all countries are facing economic setbacks and increased pressures on human rights under the pandemic. Denmark is committed to a stronger and reformed WHO and is planning to double its core funding to the agency. Affirming the importance of international solidarity and a common obligation to protect the most vulnerable, she called on the international community to ensure equal global access to safe and affordable vaccines and treatments. The pandemic must be used to define a better future, creating a new green economy, addressing the climate crisis and creating new jobs. Citing the Sustainable Development Goals among other initiatives, she said the international community does not need new blueprints, but political will and concrete actions.
SANNA MARIN, Prime Minister of Finland, said the international community has the means to stop the global pandemic, but “how long this will take and how we will recover depends on our actions now.” She called for political leadership, noting that it is possible to balance the need to protect health and the impact of such measures on society and the economy. Vaccines must be universally available, as “no one is safe until everyone is safe.” Further, green, inclusive and sustainable recovery and digital transformation are central to restoring progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting that the COVID‑19 crisis has revealed how investing in global health security, systemic risk management and resilient health systems is necessary to protect health, she said the world knows what must be done — climate change must be stopped, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss reversed and trust in public authorities and science built. She added that the pandemic particularly affects the economic and reproductive health of women and girls, stressing that the international community’s approach must be gender responsive.
ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor of Germany, noting the great burden COVID‑19 places on health‑care systems while exacerbating poverty and hunger, said this multifaceted crisis can only be surmounted by global action. Underscoring the importance of WHO, she said that institution must be strengthened and put in an even better position to respond to international health. Her country has been campaigning for this during its presidency of the European Union Council, she noted, also adding that “there is light at the end of the tunnel,” in large part due to the ACT‑Accelerator. This global platform for the development and distribution of tests, treatments and vaccines needs additional financial support, she said, stressing that the pandemic can only be truly beaten when everyone in the world has equitable access to effective vaccines.
SAMDECH AKKA MOHA SENA PADEI TECHO, Prime Minister of Cambodia, noting that the lives of millions of people worldwide are at risk, stressed that no country should politicize the COVID‑19 pandemic and denounce the ability to contain the spread of this infectious disease. Moreover, regional and global solidarity are indispensable elements during such a crisis, as is joint and prudent decision‑making under the framework of multilateralism, with the United Nations and WHO as core agencies. He underlined the importance of the COVID‑19 vaccine as a global public good, with its supply and distribution carried out in a humanitarian spirit for all countries, especially the most vulnerable ones. Adding that the public health crisis will be over in the near future, he said all nations must continue addressing its associated challenges during the period of economic recovery, with aid forming a part.
NGUYEN XUAN PHUC, Prime Minister of Viet Nam, stressed the importance of upholding the United Nations central role, increasing policy coordination, taking collective action and championing multilateral efforts in global governance to combat the COVID‑19 pandemic. In its capacity as a non‑permanent member of the Security Council for the 2020‑2021 term, Viet Nam supports the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire, the lifting of universal sanctions and the provision of humanitarian assistance in the fight against COVID‑19. He also said that the world must adapt to the “new normal” for sustainable development, promoting economic recovery; facilitating cross‑border trade, investment and travel; and maintaining supply chains of essential goods, food and medical equipment. Detailing Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pandemic‑response initiatives under his country’s 2020 chairmanship, he added that Viet Nam’s Government, organizations, businesses and people have gifted domestically produced medical supplies to many countries hit hard by COVID‑19, guided by the spirit of sharing and caring.
STEFAN LÖFVEN, Prime Minister of Sweden, said almost 1.5 million people have lost their lives and many more have been affected by the devastating consequences of COVID‑19. The pandemic has exposed weakness in our societies and caused massive indirect effects: inequality has increased, human rights have been threatened and millions of people have been thrown into poverty. However, the pandemic has also produced global cooperation and solidarity, he said, stressing the need to be better prepared to prevent and address future crisis. Noting that there are several promising vaccine candidates, he expressed appreciation for the excellence of the scientific community. The international community must work together and ensure that safe, effective and affordable vaccines are made around the world, he said, expressing concern about the devastating effects of the pandemic. Underscoring the importance of the United Nations, he expressed said that from WHO’s health response to the wider economic response, Sweden remains deeply committed to multilateral cooperation.
THONGLOUN SISOULITH, Prime Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, detailed Government measures to control COVID‑19, stressing that such measures allowed his country to contain the outbreak with a manageable number of infections and no fatalities. However, the crisis has seriously affected Vientiane’s development objectives, exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and disrupted progress towards smooth graduation from least developed country status. Underscoring the importance of the development and distribution of COVID‑19 vaccines, and that these vaccines must be global property — accessible by all without discrimination — he urged the international community to promote “vaccine multilateralism.”
PEDRO SANCHEZ PEREZ-CASTEJON, President of Spain, underscoring that “united we can do more,” pointed out that the ACT‑Accelerator was created in record time — an initiative joined by over 184 countries to ensure that place of birth does not determine access to a vaccine. This unprecedented level of international collaboration should reinforce the international community’s firm commitment to multilateralism, and international institutions will be as strong as their members want them to be. The relationship between the health, economic and social aspects of the current crisis requires simultaneous responses. In addition to vaccine efforts, the world must strengthen its health systems without neglecting other diseases and, in addition to responding to worker’s socioeconomic needs, the viability of businesses must be ensured. Pointing out that women are suffering disproportionately from the crisis, he warned that progress in gender equality achieved over past decades must not be jeopardized and that girls and boys around the world must be guaranteed access to education.
YOSHIHIDE SUGA, Prime Minister of Japan, stressed, “We must realize a united world in the face of this challenge.” His country stands ready to cooperate with the review and reform process of WHO in order to be better prepared for future crises. It has promptly taken multilayered efforts to overcome the current crisis and strengthen efforts to prevent future ones, as well as ensure resilience to future disease. A founding donor of the ACT‑Accelerator, his country has also responded promptly to calls for donations to COVAX and will support access to therapeutics by the voluntary license of patents. In addition, Japan has helped reinforce health systems by training health workers in Asian and African countries. Noting that the pandemic has exacerbated malnutrition, he pointed out that Japan is holding the Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2021. It will also take part in the Food Systems Summit to be held by the United Nations next November. Turning to the Tokyo Olympic Games, he said, “We will spare no effort to hold them safely and securely next year.”
SABAH AL-KHALID AL-SABAH, Prime Minister of Kuwait, said that since the pandemic began, his Government has initiated measures including suspension of commercial flights; screening passengers; imposing lockdowns and isolation of areas with rising infection rates; suspending work; and closing places of worship. In preparation for the availability of a vaccine, the country is devising a plan for free distribution to its citizens. He noted Kuwait is still honouring its humanitarian obligations amid the crisis, making donations to WHO, the Coronavirus Global Response and COVAX Facility to guarantee fair access for people in every country. The country also established a fund for global development with initiatives including a pandemic centre in Africa, for commitments totalling $287.4 million.
KEITH ROWLEY, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said that COVID‑19 has plunged the world into an acute health and economic crisis, exacerbating vulnerabilities and inequalities in both developing and developed countries. The virus has also brought to the fore the depth of global interdependence and presented an opportunity to harness the benefits of multilateral action. Commending the United Nations system including WHO for responding quickly to health and humanitarian needs around the globe — particularly in places that are home to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities — he said the global pandemic can only be countered effectively through local, regional and international cooperation. His country has instituted a comprehensive social, financial and economic support package of measures in response and has launched a parallel health‑care system to manage the pandemic, he said.
ION CHICU, Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, said the COVID‑19 pandemic is a crisis of civilization. Responding to this common challenge and shared threat is fundamentally about a global partnership that strengthens the way in which the international community works together. In response, Chisinau has mobilized to implement measures guided by its national COVID‑19 response plan and strongly supported by development partners including WHO and the United Nations COIVD‑19 Response and Recovery Trust Fund. These important initiatives and long‑term assistance have helped strengthen its national response, addressing the social and economic impact of the pandemic while also protecting jobs and incomes. He expressed appreciation for the lifesaving medications, PPE and supplies for vulnerable populations as well as tailored guidance and expertise provided by these partners. “In the face of shared fragilities unveiled by the pandemic crisis, the United Nations is redefining its fundamental role,” he observed. Health is a human right, he stressed, noting that it is imperative that everyone has fair and equitable access to a COVID‑19 vaccine.
HASSAN DIAB, President of the Council of Ministers of Lebanon, told the Assembly that the pandemic hit the country as it addressed existential and unprecedented financial and socioeconomic crises. The Government moved swiftly to implement a nationwide lockdown and to develop the capacities of health facilities, allowing it to tackle the first wave. However, in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion, COVID‑19 cases rose, resulting in a second lockdown. Such measures have hastened Lebanon’s economic collapse, he warned, declaring: “The Lebanese public are forced into deciding if they die due to the coronavirus or out of poverty.” The Government is implementing a modest recovery plan and is in dire need of international assistance. “Lebanon finds itself with extremely limited international support,” he said, noting that it has been unable to receive adequate amounts of external financing due to its debt status.
RALPH E. GONSALVES, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that his country has been fortunate to suffer no deaths, hospitalizations or community spread from the COVID‑19 pandemic, with just over 80 cases recorded — mainly imported or import‑related — since the start of the crisis. However, he pointed out that his country has not been spared from the pandemic’s socioeconomic impact, which disproportionately affects developing countries. Small island developing States have suffered an almost‑total elimination of vital tourism‑related income and jobs. Further, COVID‑19 has only added to the strain of the climate crisis, and “inadequate responses to these twin threats will decimate life and living as we know it”. He said that, as the pandemic response continues to shrink modest national budgets, countries must still find the financing to address adverse weather conditions of unprecedented intensity and frequency. While the COVAX Advance Market Commitment is a welcome financing instrument for the procurement of vaccines for low- and middle‑income economies, he stressed that the metrics used to select countries to participate therein are based on the “deeply flawed and lazy calculus” of gross national income per capita, leaving the majority of Caribbean Community countries excluded. He urged that this situation be rectified.
J.V. BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister of Fiji, said that today’s summit session is a long‑awaited opportunity to break the hold of COVID‑induced nationalism that has crippled a global response to the crisis. “It was with a sick sense of irony that in the year the United Nations marked its seventy‑fifth anniversary, countries hoard critical health supplies … leaving many brave front‑line health workers vulnerable.” Leaders speak glowingly about their collective faith in multilateralism, yet Governments are increasing the prices of medicine and medical equipment to criminal levels, if their export is allowed at all. The playing field for a global recovery is wildly uneven, with Pacific islanders, and all small island developing States, uniquely disadvantaged. Welcoming Australia’s pledge to include Pacific small island States in its vaccine procurement programme, he said that a vaccine must be freely available to all humanity and not only to the wealthy. He went on to call for a significant expansion of concessional financing for small developing States, saying that a mere 1.5 per cent of the total stimulus employed by developed nations is all that is needed. If the World Bank and IMF cannot provide the required concessional resources, it is fair to ask whether they are still fit for purpose, he said, calling for radical reform and the democratization of global governance institutions to confront both COVID‑19 and the climate emergency.
EDI RAMA, Prime Minister of Albania, noted that a century ago, before the creation of the United Nations or its predecessor the League of Nations, countries — and even regions within them — took different approaches to fighting the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1917‑1918, dramatically increasing mortality rates. This time, spearheaded by WHO and the United Nations, each country has adopted unified social distancing protocols which have saved millions of lives. Recalling the first virtual World Health Assembly in May, he noted that 194 Member States passed a landmark resolution recognizing the role of both bodies, coordinating the comprehensive global response and calling on Member States to implement a whole-of-Government approach ensuring fair global distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. The best way to combat COVID‑19 and its consequences is by laying the foundations for an inclusive and green recovery in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, and mobilizing for universal and equitable access to COVID‑19 vaccines and therapeutics. “We now need a new Marshall plan, a concentrated and united road map to defeat the virus and ensure a better tomorrow,” he said.
CLÉMENT MOUAMBA, Prime Minister of Congo, calling the pandemic the world’s greatest contemporary threat, said that a coordinated global response is necessary to tackle COVID‑19. In order to halt the outbreak, the Congo has carried out various measures, including closing its borders, placing people across the country under lockdown, instituting a curfew and quarantining travellers. These measures have helped but have produced a terrible effect on the economy. The promise of a vaccine is an avenue to thwart this pandemic, but solidarity must be followed and multilateral cooperation is necessary. As well, regional and subregional cooperation is necessary, in addition to global cooperation. In that regard, the Great Lakes region is taking measures to strengthen its partnerships and coordinate its responses.
ABDELAZIZ DJERAD, Prime Minister of Algeria, stressed the importance of unity and a global solution in combating COVID‑19, so that all nations can provide adequate medical services to their people. He noted that the pandemic has exacerbated poverty, especially in Africa, where some States lack necessary resources to tackle the various impacts of the disease. It has become an additional burden added to those already there, including climate change, armed conflict, racism, disorderly migration and achieving sustainable development. The international community must consider the needs and abilities of all groups without using a unilateral or selfish approach, which could lead to a lack of access to healthcare for some people, he emphasized.
VICTOIRE SIDÉMÉHO TOMEGAH-DOGBE, Prime Minister of Togo, said her country recorded its first COVID‑19 case on 5 March. By 30 November, it had recorded 2,914 cases, of which the same number of cases were noted as recovered. It also recorded 104 deaths, of which three quarters occurred among people with comorbidities. Togo took emergency health, legal and socioeconomic measures to contain the pandemic risk and protect the right to life of all its people. It enacted many measures by executive decree, including placing restrictions, which were later lifted or relaxed, on local areas where infection rate was high. In addition, Togo enacted provisions to mitigate the effects of such restrictions on human rights. In order to tackle the pandemic, health‑care infrastructure was built, restored and better equipped, she said, adding that the wearing of masks was made mandatory. Measures were taken to train and protect health‑care workers, as well as to provide free access to water to vulnerable populations. A cash transfer system was also established. She commended measures such as the ACT‑Accelerator and COVAX, which were leaving no stone unturned in extending access to vaccines.
YI WANG, State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, said that, in 2020, humanity has written a remarkable chapter in its history. He called for information‑sharing to promote a collective response to COVID‑19, noting that while countries have taken varied responses, protecting every life is a central principle. Vaccines should be accessible and affordable to all, including for developing countries, and cooperation in this regard must be enhanced. Defeating the pandemic requires a concerted effort and public health security must be strengthened. In this context, more support and input should be channeled towards the World Health Organization. Looking ahead to the winter months, he said: “we must be prepared for a prolonged struggle,” and economies must be reopened. Calling for enhanced development and resilience for emerging industries, he also called for macroeconomic policies that keep global supply chains stable. Developing countries need continued help, including in terms of medical and vaccine support and humanitarian assistance. More resources should be devoted to infectious disease control and more concessionary financing terms made available by the World Bank and others. China has taken comprehensive and rigorous measures against COVID‑19, he reported, noting that it has launched the largest ever humanitarian campaign in its history. In doing so, it has upheld its responsibility as the world’s largest supplier of anti‑epidemic material.
AYMAN SAFADI, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Jordan, said that all States must invest in creating international and national security networks to meet basic food, healthcare and education needs during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Further, it is a moral imperative that the international community adopt mechanisms to ensure equitable, large‑scale distribution of medicine and vaccines. Jordan has welcomed 3 million refugees — 1 million of them from Syria — and is providing them with the same services available to Jordanian citizens. However, the economic burden of ensuring a good life for refugees cannot be borne by host countries alone, he stressed, urging the international community to heed the call of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to guarantee financial resources to provide access to vital services during the pandemic. He added that the world is facing collective challenges and its ability to address them will increase if the international community works together and adopts tangible initiatives.
CHRIS FEARNE, Deputy Prime Minister of Malta, recalled that, at the onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic, his country organized a health response team and bolstered its health‑care system. Malta also brought in a system of thorough surveillance, broad testing, as well as a symptom checker application. Mutual collaboration, solidarity and support have been critical throughout the pandemic, and particularly significant for small Member States. “COVID‑19 has tested the way society works,” he observed, noting that swift whole-of-Government action in addressing such challenges is essential. As a small island State, Malta’s decision‑makers are not far removed from those most effected by their decisions. As such, he looked forward to a “new normal” where leaders continue to place people and families at the centre of their decisions.
EKATERINA ZAHARIEVA, Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, said the fight against COVID‑19 should cause nations to come together for recovery. She endorsed the call for a global ceasefire and the Call to Action on Human Rights. Gender equality, the rights of the child and inclusivity should be at the heart of the recovery, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Investment in resilient health systems and pandemic preparedness, under the leadership of WHO, is critical to building back better. In addition, a broad One Health approach is needed to protect environmental, human and animal health through cooperation within the United Nations and among all stakeholders. Endorsing all three pillars of the Road Map on Digital Cooperation, she also welcomed the Global Humanitarian Response Plan and emphasized the need to ensure safe access for humanitarian workers. Noting Bulgaria’s contributions to the European strategy for a fair, green economic recovery, she said success towards that goal will only come through global partnership.
THEMBA MASUKU, Deputy Prime Minister of Eswatini, said the pandemic has left a devastating trail of human loss and changed the way of life for everyone. The anticipation of the second wave of the pandemic is taking a terrible mental toll on people. Everyone must work tirelessly to maximize their resources. Children of those who have died must be cared for. His country’s national economy has not been spared and the country is using methods on a local, regional and continental basis. In addition, the impact of the pandemic on Eswatini, a landlocked country, has been terrible. The Government is working to develop a post‑COVID‑19 economic plan to create opportunities in the economy. Relief packages are being dispersed to essential workers and others. It was encouraging to hear that the first vaccine indicates that a high rate of protection can be achieved rapidly. The country was praying for its rapid distribution, he said, paying tribute to all front‑line workers and mourning the countless lives that have been lost.
DEMEKE MEKONNEN, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, said that vaccines are a global public good and must be made accessible and affordable to everyone everywhere. He added that he hoped that those with resources would contribute to providing equitable access to testing, treatments, and vaccines. The virus has claimed 50,000 lives in the African continent and has had a devastating socioeconomic impact. It has impacted lives, livelihoods, and people’s socioeconomic well‑being, particularly affecting those in the informal economy. The pandemic also threatens to undermine gains made in combating poverty and has exacerbated pre‑existing socioeconomic difficulties. He urged the Group of 20 to provide an effective stimulus package, which includes debt relief, restructuring, and support for social sectors. Citing the Secretary‑General’s emphasis on this issue during the recent G20 summit in Riyadh, he said: “We cannot ensure a sustainable recovery without addressing the debt recovery issue and protecting the most vulnerable.”
MARCELO EBRARD CASAUBÓN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), spotlighted the pandemic’s economic and social impact, observing that States are falling behind in their progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The gross domestic product across the Latin American and Caribbean region may drop by 9 points this year, possibly more. Moreover, poverty rates may increase by 37 or 38 per cent compared to the pre‑pandemic situation. Inequalities with regard to gender disparities and other issues are becoming more pronounced. Developed countries must commit to a recovery bolstered by cooperation, he said, calling for financial resources to be coordinated to facilitate a global economic recovery. This also applies for therapeutics and vaccines.
As well, new financial instruments must be designed to reduce interest rates for middle- and low‑income countries, since very low rates are already available to developed countries, he continued, adding: “The sooner we act, the less damage there will be over the long term.” Special attention must also be paid to vulnerable populations such as the elderly. Turning to COVAX, he hailed the multilateral international instrument as a positive development, but he called for it to be stronger and broader. WHO has played a major role during this crisis and must be supported. The region is prepared to respond to the United Nations’ call to act as a team and open a space of international solidarity.
PÉTER SZIJJÁRTÓ, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Hungary said that because the COVID‑19 pandemic has resulted in dual health and economic crises, Governments must address both simultaneously. The pandemic has also shown that those countries able to manufacture their own protective equipment are better prepared to respond to health‑care challenges. His Government was able to establish an “air bridge” with China through which 185 aircraft delivered protective equipment to Hungary. At this time, domestic production of masks and ventilators is under way. Turning to economic challenges, he said that Government funds have been used to fight unemployment, rather than to finance it, stating that it is not aid but jobs that foster a long‑term, predictable economic environment. As well, vaccines must not be a political issue. Economic and business lobbies financed by certain companies must not be allowed to pressure politicians, political parties or Governments to favor or oppose any certain and concrete vaccine.
ALEXEY TSOY, Minister for Health Care of Kazakhstan, thanking all the countries that provided humanitarian and practical assistance to Kazakhstan in the fight against COVID‑19, underscored that the epidemic has demonstrated the importance of international cooperation, collaboration and support. Various Government measures have been engaged to ensure economic stability and counter the spread of infection, including free outpatient drugs for COVID‑19 patients with pneumonia and the construction of 16 complexes meeting international standards for infectious safety for patients with the virus. Further, more than $2 billion has been allocated to fight the pandemic this year and Kazakh scientists have developed a vaccine that is passing clinical trials. Noting that the pandemic has shown the need to strengthen the provision of high‑quality and affordable medical care to the population at the primary care level, he invited Member States to support and participate in an online event on 14 December dedicated to the official launch of the Primary Health Care Operational Framework.
IVAN KORCOK, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, said over the course of two weekends, his country, using antigen tests, tested two‑thirds of its population for the coronavirus. “It was a tremendous effort on an unprecedented scale,” he said. Thousands of medics, law enforcement and armed forces personnel and volunteers worked on the operation, called “Joint Responsibility”. More than 50,000 active cases were identified, on top of the patients identified daily by RT‑PCR tests. This approach was an effective tool to slow the virus’ spread and reduce the number of active cases, making it a suitable alternative to hard lockdowns. Slovakia is dedicated to a coordinated international effort to develop, produce and disseminate efficient and affordable diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Ensuring equitable access to these health technologies must be the top priority of the international community. Referring to the unprecedented increase in disinformation and the spread of hoaxes, he said it is essential for all local, national and international actors to fight this dangerous disinformation pandemic together and promote accessible, verified, science‑based information.
TUN HUSSEIN, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Malaysia, said this is a historic gathering yet Member States are not gathered at the United Nations, but rather in their own countries. More than 1.4 million lives have been lost and the global economy has been plunged into recession. There has been a reverse of decades of progress achieved by the United Nations. The pandemic is the defining crisis of this generation and calls for unprecedented measures. The recovery won’t be linear and must balance public health fears with economic concerns. Each country must make its own trade‑offs and individual efforts must be supported by global efforts, he said. A vaccine that is equitably distributed and affordable is needed. The vaccine must be shared; that is a global and a moral responsibility and there must be international collaboration rather than nationalistic tendencies. The disinformation on social media about the vaccines, such as vaccines that are forced and alter DNA, is troubling. The aim is to undermine trust in medicine and science, a matter of concern as Malaysia prepared its vaccination distribution plan and a setback to progress already made. Malaysia remains committed to work with the United Nations and all Member States, he said, adding that while multilateralism may not be perfect, working hand-in-hand to address humanity’s common challenge is essential.
RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, said the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight, with global cases continuing to rise at a rate faster than before. While news of vaccines is encouraging, they must be fairly distributed. Recalling a report by McKinsey & Company, which suggested that a third of the population in developing countries would be covered by vaccines, she expressed concern that developing countries are at risk of being left behind, due to their lack of capacity to produce and distribute vaccines. “Vaccine discovery is not an end in itself,” she stressed. Efforts towards the free and fair distribution of vaccines must continue, including through COVAX and the ACT‑Accelerator. Further, the United Nations must help countries develop capacity to help administer the vaccine. Measures must be taken to address health inequalities in order to withstand the threat of future pandemics, she said. She called for countries to work together to build the health industry capacity of developing countries, through technological transfer and industry collaboration. Finally, she called for the strengthening of global health governance; WHO is not perfect, but it is the international community’s best hope to coordinate action. “We have no other option — we must strengthen its capacity,” she stressed.
MARISE PAYNE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, said the COVID‑19 pandemic presents a vital opportunity for Member States to share experiences and enhance collaboration in combating it. One of Australia´s challenges is its multiple borders, she said, but the country has pulled together in controlling them, testing for the virus and doing contact tracing. It has been able to prevent wider spread of the pandemic, which constitutes Australia´s largest public health undertaking to date. The country´s development strategy has drawn up a programme to respond, distributed personal protective equipment and supported a humanitarian corridor to keep crucial supplies flowing. Adding that the world is looking with hope to the development of an effective and safe vaccine, she said her country is taking a strong role to support a vaccine in the region. It has, for example, provided $100 million for the region to access and deliver such a vaccine and is working with international partners to spread clear and transparent information.
VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore said that, as an early supporter of the COVAX Facility, his country has championed vaccine multilateralism to ensure global access to a pool of safe, effective COVID‑19 vaccines. Singapore has contributed $5 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment to support the participation of low- and middle‑income countries. Small States — especially small island developing States — will need help to gain equitable access and, even if that access is guaranteed, many will still face logistical challenges. To this end, he urged the international community to provide capacity‑building and technical assistance to vulnerable countries and stressed that supply chains must be kept open and flowing so that all countries can access necessary goods for their people. Calling on each to play their part to break the circuits and chains of transmission, he said that the world must learn the right lessons from this pandemic in order to prepare for the next one.
MYINT HTWE, Union Minister, Ministry of Health and Sports of Myanmar, said the country is using all approaches to reduce the negative impact and enhance the positive impact of the pandemic. This is an unprecedented scenario and innovative approaches are needed. All decisions are time‑sensitive in order to stop the spread of the disease. The Government has created two high‑level committees and created a COVID command centre and COVID information system. It is using Zoom meetings and distributing guidelines electronically to the lower levels of the health care system throughout the country. There was a homemade cloth mask competition and correct hand washing was demonstrated by a Government official. The Government also has used television and social media to raise awareness. Quarantine facilities and testing have been offered free of charge, he said, noting that all Government ministries are involved.
NIKOLAOS-GEORGIOS DENDIAS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, said the cross-border dispersion of the virus brought to the fore a situation that has always existed. “We were slow to heed the wakeup call of pandemics in the last two decades,” he said. Underlining that ongoing armed conflicts make efforts to contain the virus less effective, he echoed the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire. There is an undeniable need for States to work together, along with WHO, he said, adding that he supported that Organization’s reform. “We must not miss the big picture, as described by the One Health approach,” he said, adding that human, animal and plant health must all be taken into consideration. They must be supported and strengthened through WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health. Multilateral efforts are the only way to combat the collective challenges of the twenty‑first century, he stressed.
JAN BLATNY, Minister for Health of the Czech Republic, pointing out that 2020 is designated the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, thanked nurses and other health‑care workers around the world for their care of COVID‑19 and all other patients. COVID‑19 took the international community by surprise, he remarked, calling for strong multilateral cooperation to avoid this in the future. “Only awareness‑raising campaigns and clear communication, in combination with a strong political commitment at the highest possible level can bring us results,” he said. Moreover, the pandemic has served as a reminder of the importance of securing drugs for patients and appropriate protective equipment for health‑care workers. Therefore, any trade restrictions imposed on medicines and other life‑saving goods are unacceptable, he stressed.
SAEED NAMAKI, Minister for Health and Medical Education of Iran, said his country’s strategy to manage the COVID‑19 pandemic was quickly established and fully supported by the Government to monitor the disease and control its spread. Despite the pandemic, Iran also has managed to sustain maternal and child health services, continue treatment for chronic patients and provide financial support to the poor. Adding that it has taken health measures to control its borders with neighbouring countries, he emphasized the need for support from Member States for this to remain effective. Global preparedness to overcome the pandemic must be on the agenda of Governments and international agencies in the years to come, he said, underscoring the need for equitable access to medical equipment and supplies.
ABDULLA SHAHID, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives detailed national measures to control the COVID‑19 pandemic implemented since the virus first hit the Maldives in March and “life as we knew it came to a standstill.” He pointed out that the epidemic has highlighted what has been abundantly clear — that, while all are affected by global crises, not all are affected equally. The Maldives has suffered incalculable losses in tourism — a sector that accounts for 75 per cent of its GDP — and its economy is expected to contract by nearly 30 per cent in 2020. Noting the limits of debt relief and vaccines in overcoming this crisis, he said that small island developing States require greater access to sustainable financing. He also underscored that climate change threatens his country’s very existence, and that “building back better” must not only aim to fix ailing economies but also to heal the planet, building back “bluer, greener and cleaner.” Adding that viruses do not respect borders, he stated that the only way out of this storm is through collective action to “fix the roof before the next storm hits.”
NURMUHAMMET AMANNEPESOV, Minister for Health of Turkmenistan, said citizen safety is the main priority of his Government’s domestic policy. As such, it took universal and far-reaching preventive measures in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, including strengthening infection and laboratory oversight as well as imposing limitations on international travel. The Government coordinated procurement and logistics to ensure access to the necessary medical equipment and resources, and also increased salaries by 20 per cent for those working on COVID‑19 cases in the medical field. The Government also cooperated closely with WHO’s regional office through regular exchanges. He went on to advocate for joint action with other regional actors to stop the spread of infectious diseases. In this context, he cited research diplomacy measures proposed by Turkmenistan’s President at a recent Non‑Aligned Movement summit.
LUCA BECARI, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Telecommunications of San Marino, noted that the COVID‑19 pandemic has caused death and suffering everywhere, collapsing hospitals, disrupting services, closing businesses and increasing unemployment. It has aggravated the weaknesses of societies and exposed the most vulnerable groups to the direst consequences, exacerbating inequalities within societies and countries. Moreover, the crisis is expected to push tens of millions of people back into extreme poverty and hunger, eroding what has been done so far for growth and development. Adding that no country can resolve these concerns on its own, he stressed the need to trust and support the multilateral system through a renewed global commitment to solidarity, unity and cooperation.
AHMED AL SAIDI, Minister for Health of Oman, said there have been unprecedented circumstances this year worldwide due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. In responding to the virus, Oman has enlarged three treatment centres in the health sector and has also resorted to non-medical actions such as lockdowns. He stressed the need to take preventive measures in dealing with the pandemic until an effective treatment or vaccine has been discovered. In encouraging prevention and controlling the spread of the virus, Oman has organized round tables reaffirming the importance of precautionary measures, often with the Sultan in attendance. It has also interacted with the media and used artificial intelligence to bolster digital public services.
AOUÉLÉ EUGЀNE AKA, Minister for Health and Public Hygiene of Côte d’Ivoire, said the country’s first case of COVID-19 was discovered on 11 March. The Government took the threat very seriously and implemented a response plan. The plan included a test, isolate and treat strategy. It was financed through domestic resources with the support of outside partners. The Government also took containment measures, controlled its land borders and strictly controlled testing of arrivals at all airports, he said. It also provided good quality care free of charge. Contact tracing is an important part of the Government’s strategy as it analyzes test samples. It also established 100 rapid intervention teams, which were given telephones and vehicles to reach people in the communities. Alert indicators are being monitored, though alert levels have not been reached, he said. There are centralized testing procedures for people entering or leaving the country. He added that the Government is holding a workshop this month to take stock of its efforts and integrate the information into its work going forward.
ERNESTO HENRIQUE FRAGA ARAÚJO, Minister for External Relations of Brazil, said that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s severe, global socioeconomic impact, the international community should face the crisis without abandoning the Organization’s fundamental principles — namely, that the pandemic must not be used as a pretext to advance agendas that deviate from the constitutional structure of United Nations systems. COVID-19 has affected nations and peoples unequally, and the United Nations should serve as a platform to share experiences in the aftermath of the virus. He also stressed that primary responsibility lies with Governments to adopt specific COVID-19 responses, as there are no one-size-fits-all approaches. Further, clichés will not help address the challenges of the pandemic; only national work and international cooperation coordinated by international organizations will do so. Detailing Government efforts to provide emergency assistance to Brazilians — especially those unemployed or in the informal sector — he said that the burden of these measures falls on Brazilian taxpayers, not multilateral institutions. He added that this observation is not meant to blame such institutions, but rather to emphasize that national efforts are fundamental to facing the COVID-19 crisis.
AÏSSATA TALL SALL, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Senegal, said the COVID-19 health crisis calls for a coordinated, concerted, multilateral and inclusive response on a broad scale, equivalent to at least 10 per cent of global GDP. She welcomed the adoption of a General Assembly resolution on equitable access to the vaccine, which should be considered a global public good. Turning to debt restructuring, she called for debt cancellation for developing countries, particularly African countries. In Senegal, 85 per cent of households experienced a drop in their income during the pandemic and 28 per cent of businesses have closed. However, Senegal implemented a contingency plan, and thus it was placed second on a global COVID-19 response index. This performance is partially explained by Senegal’s experience with prior epidemics, she observed, also highlighting a $1.6 billion resilience programme it implemented to strengthen its health system, socioeconomic resilience and financial stability. A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission estimated that the 0.7 per cent downturn forecast for Senegal’s economy in 2020 might be avoided, but this depends on how the pandemic develops.
KATRIN EGGENBERGER, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Justice and Culture of Liechtenstein, noting how hundreds of thousands of people have died of COVID‑19, while economies and societies witnessed deep disruptions, said that now is a time when the world needs the United Nations and its promise of joint action. The United Nations specialized agencies, particularly WHO, are a force for good, while being far from perfect. While Governments have the primary responsibility for the health and well‑being of citizens, multilateralism is more effective than nationalist approaches. There is no trade‑off between targeted domestic policies and international cooperation when fighting a pandemic, she said, adding that firm scientific knowledge must underpin both. Also noting that hunger and poverty, gender-based violence and systemic racism have increased, she cautioned that democracy has come under additional threat from authoritarian tendencies and conspiracy theories. “The infodemic has taken a heavy toll on cohesion and State institutions,” she said, calling on the international community to seize the opportunity to achieve a more sustainable, equal and peaceful world by 2030.
SAMEH HASSAN SHOKRY SELIM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, said the repercussions of the pandemic have exacerbated peace and security challenges, particularly in regions already suffering from instability. The pandemic has shed light on the gaps of the international community’s capacity to address such challenges. He called for strengthened multilateralism and the global exchange of good information and practices between States to address the crisis. Egypt has taken measures to address the health, economic and social concerns of its people. He commended the sacrifices and efforts of health workers in Egypt and around the world, many of whom are women. He highlighted the resolution introduced by Egypt in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) on strengthening the national and international rapid response to the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, adding that it was adopted by consensus. The pandemic has had the gravest consequences on the weakest economies and poorest countries, he said, renewing the call to support a global economic recovery, including through debt alleviation. The international community should help meet the needs of Africa, including by contributing to the African fund to fight COVID-19. “Beating pandemics doesn’t just mean producing vaccines, it also means ensuring the right to access them,” he stressed. He welcomed efforts by the WHO and COVAX to provide early and equal access to testing, treatment and vaccines.
DANIEL NGAMIJE, Minister for Health of Rwanda said his country established a National Steering Committee which put in place a multisectoral COVID-19 Joint Task Force to coordinate the COVID-19 response, including a surveillance system and a home-based care system to ensure the monitoring of asymptomatic patients from their homes. Rwanda understands the impact of digital solutions on health-related challenges. As such, it has maximized the use of technology in contact tracing and robots in treatment centres to reduce contact between medics and patients. A successful national response would have been impossible without strong leadership, a multisectoral approach and the involvement of communities, he said, reiterating Rwanda’s commitment to make its immunization programme available for testing the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine and ensuring its large-scale administration.
LINAS LINKEVICIUS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, stressing the need for trusted, facts-based information, warned that fear and uncertainty have given rise to disinformation and even conspiracy theories around the virus. Commitments to human dignity and human rights should remain a guiding principle in the fight against COVID-19. Further, special consideration must be given to how the pandemic impacts different groups of society, he said, noting that reports show that pandemic-related lockdowns brought an alarming increase in cases of violence against women. The international community will need to take measures to make health systems more resilient and responsive to prevent similar instances in the future. Given the complexity and extent of the task ahead, the implementation of 2030 Agenda and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is a necessity rather than choice.
FAISAL BIN FARHAN AL-SAUD, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, said this was an exceptional year and an unprecedented challenge. The pandemic has claimed the lives of 1.5 million people in less than a year. There have been 54 million infections and a heavy economic and humanitarian toll. The pandemic has shown the fragility of the world order. The international community needs to set differences aside and coordinate an international response that will bring back financial and economic stability. It is necessary to take precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19. International efforts must be made to face this health challenge and maintain stability. There is a light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine. All countries must have access to the vaccine in an affordable manner without any discrimination. There must be a recovery strategy for the future and to work towards the attainment of the 2030 Agenda so that no one is left behind. The world order continues to change. Saudi Arabia remains committed to multilateralism.
MIKHAIL MURASHKO, Minister for Health of the Russian Federation, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented endurance test for States and the international community at large, called for an exchange and analysis of national practices implemented to stop the spread of the virus. For its part, the Russian Federation quickly implemented measures to strengthen its domestic health-care system, including the development of two successful vaccines, with a third in clinical trials. He also said that vaccine development must be supported by technology in order to swiftly produce the necessary number of doses, noting that the first registered vaccine in the world — Sputnik V — is already in circulation. He then condemned efforts to politicize issues surrounding the pandemic, including that of vaccination, as such actions do not demonstrate solidarity and delay the implementation of life-saving measures. Thanking the World Health Organization for its central coordinating role during this crisis, he added that its capacity must be strengthened.
ALEXANDER SCHALLENBERG, Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria, highlighting such challenges as lockdowns, travel restrictions and the enormous pressure on health systems, said: “We have only seen the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come.” The COVID-19 pandemic is more than a health crisis: it is an economic, humanitarian, security and human rights emergency. It has triggered the most severe recession in almost a century; 24 million children and young people have dropped out or now lack access to school. In parallel, there has been a global increase in domestic violence against women and girls. Warning against all forms of “vaccine nationalism”, he said developing a vaccine should not become a new race to the moon. He called for solidarity in the form of early, fair and affordable access to vaccines, noting that Austria has pledged €31 million to the WHO Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility. He also warned that the pandemic has fast become an “infodemic”, proving that misinformation can spread faster than the virus.