Speakers Highlight Progress in Vaccine Development, as Special Session Continues
Expert panellists addressed the General Assembly in the second day of an unprecedented special session dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far infected 65 million people and continues to claim 70,000 lives every week, citing possibly catastrophic global famine in the coming months, while also pointing hopefully towards imminent vaccines and their deployment.
The session — the first ever to address a pandemic — featured three interactive panel discussion during which speakers shed light on the United Nations system’s response, the vaccine development process and how to ensure a resilient recovery which prepares the world for future outbreaks.
Opening the day-long programme, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir (Turkey) said Member States at the highest political level had gathered in a comprehensive multilateral approach to combat “a disease that does not recognize borders”. Adding “we cannot neglect our duties to the people we serve in this time of crisis”, he noted the need to maintain efforts towards sustainable development and green economies even amid the crisis.
Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations — highlighting the Organization’s immediate response in terms of health services, humanitarian needs and supporting national Governments — said these efforts have helped 71 countries implement more than 300 social protection policies, supported the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to 25 million people and helped over 100,000 companies to stay afloat. “But we are keenly aware that our response must go further,” she added, as it will not be easy to reduce poverty and inequality, fully realize the rights of women and girls, and transition to a green economy with decent work for all.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking via video-teleconference from Geneva, said that although the unprecedented crisis has strained the very fabric of multilateralism, it has also demonstrated the United Nations capabilities. Working closely with other major United Nations organizations, the WHO has provided personal protection equipment to 179 countries and territories. “The pandemic is what humanity is capable of at its best and worst,” he said, but with 65 million people infected and 1.5 million deaths worldwide, responses involving solidarity and sacrifice show the virus can be tamed and stopped, while where there is self-interest, the virus thrives and spreads.
Positive developments in vaccine development reveal “the light at the end of the tunnel is growing steadily brighter,” he said, while warning that the poor cannot be stampeded by the rich and powerful in the rush for treatments. In April, WHO established the Access to COVID‑19 Tools (ACT)‑Accelerator to deliver them and has already secured 120 million low-cost rapid tests and other provisions, with 189 countries and economies also participating in the COVAX Facility. However, he noted the ACT‑Accelerator faces a $4.3 billion funding gap, with a further $23.9 billion required in 2021.
Several speakers pointed to the dangerous immediate future of COVID-19 deaths and extreme hunger, with Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, stressing that “we are still in a very, very difficult and dangerous situation”, with 4.4 million new cases and 70,000 deaths every week. Consistent and comprehensive strategies are needed, as a vaccine may be hopefully near, “but vaccination does not equal zero COVID”, he said.
Likewise, David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), warned of alarming global hunger and food insecurity, with the number of people “marching towards starvation” spiking from 135 million to 270 million as the pandemic unfolded. He stressed that 2021 will be catastrophic. “Famine is literally on the horizon and we are talking about the next few months,” he said. Noting how the WFP stepped in to deliver aid when the global airline industry shut down at the start of the pandemic, he warned anew that 2021 risks becoming the worst humanitarian crisis year since the founding of the United Nations, “and we will have to step up”.
Striking a similar note, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that in the absence of humanitarian assistance the lives of 235 million people are at stake — a 40 per cent increase, with poverty rising for the first time in 20 years while life expectancy will fall. It would be a significant achievement to avert a major famine. Despite $4 billion raised so far for the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19, and some $2 billion distributed in social protection payments, the difference being made is much too small in relation to the challenge. The vaccine rollout must be done right. “Let’s not finance vaccines at the expense of food security programmes or routine vaccinations. That would make things worse,” he warned.
Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, pointed out that the pandemic has left 80 million refugees and internally displaced persons particularly vulnerable to health hazards and other consequences. Most refugees are in poor countries, a fact that requires a special focus. From day one, his Office has strived to be present wherever necessary. That was not easy when travel was difficult, but its staff found ways to adapt, using technology and building upon cooperation with indispensable local providers.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said that women and girls in particular have been hit hard by the crisis and Government stimulus packages must be directed to help them and to address underlying problems of discrimination. Likewise, Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the international community must listen to communities to learn which women are losing access to contraception as the pandemic goes on. Losing the ability to control their fertility will lead to pregnancies, adding another burden to the virus and exposing more inequality.
Focusing on the scientific aspects of the pandemic, Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Executive Director and Chief Scientist, noted that without investment in technologies and new modes of delivering vaccines, scientists would not have been able to move so quickly to trials. “It is a record, it is absolutely unbelievable that within about 320 days, from the genetic sequence of the new virus, a vaccine is being made public,” she stressed, pointing to the Chinese vaccine with an emergency use authorization.
Uğur Şahin, founder of BioNTech, said that after recognizing the outbreak would likely become a pandemic, his biotech firm switched its operations from developing a cancer vaccine to a COVID-19 vaccine, aligning with different groups of scientists to do the research, which enabled them to come up with a safe, highly effective vaccine. “We created a 24/7 programme called Lightspeed,” he said, noting that the company partnered with colleagues from the United States as well as others.
Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), said that efforts are under way to ensure 2 billion doses of a vaccine are made available to those that would otherwise not be able to afford them. A fund was established to assist small economies in acquiring doses of a vaccine, and for its part, GAVI set aside $150 million to work with partners in helping Member States set up distribution networks once vaccines are rolled out.
Turning to the economic fallout of the pandemic, Mari Pangestu, Managing Director, Development Policy and Partnerships at the World Bank, said its lasting damage is creating economic and social setbacks around the world and taking countries away from their progress towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. To prevent further harm and to build back better, the institution is providing emergency assistance for health and social needs as well as $12 billion in financing for the purchase and distribution of vaccines. Testing and containment of the virus also must be in place, he said, warning that the international community and its institutions must be ready for the next crisis.
The interactive panels were followed by the continuation of the general debate from 3 December, during which statements were made by the Presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council.
Also speaking during the general debate were Ministers and senior government officials from Mozambique (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Brunei Darussalam, Slovenia, United States, Morocco, Jamaica, Bhutan, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Portugal, Romania, Libya, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Paraguay, United Kingdom, Argentina, Netherlands, Georgia, Ghana and Liberia.
The Assembly will resume its special session at a time and date to be announced.
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, opened the second day of the Assembly’s special session on COVID‑19, the first ever to address a pandemic. Member States at the highest political level have gathered for the session in a comprehensive multilateral approach to combat “a disease that does not recognize borders”, he said, introducing the day’s series of three interactive panel discussions featuring experts and stakeholders addressing steps in the global response to the pandemic.
The first panel, on the theme “The United Nations Response to COVID‑19”, addressed the humanitarian approach to the pandemic; the second, “The Road to a COVID‑19 Vaccine — A Global Public Good”, took up the scientific aspects of the pandemic and providing vaccines for all everywhere; and the third, “Resilience and Recovering Better from COVID‑19”, focused on the process of building back better. “We cannot neglect our duties to the people we serve in this time of crisis”, he said, noting the need to maintain efforts towards sustainable development and green economies even amid the crisis. He looked forward to a day of learning from the panellists, Member States and other participants.
AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, reviewed the Organization’s immediate response to the pandemic, which focused on delivering support to Governments and people on the ground, together with extensive global advocacy and policy efforts. Its three complementary tracks included the delivery of health services, responding to humanitarian needs and supporting national Governments with their emergency socioeconomic response and recovery measures. So far, these efforts have helped 71 countries implement more than 300 social protection policies; supported the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to 25 million people; and helped more than 100,000 companies to stay afloat.
“But we are keenly aware that our response must go further,” she said, emphasizing that decisions taken over the next 12 months will have impacts for decades to come. It will not be easy to reduce poverty and inequality, fully realize the rights of women and girls, and transition to a green economy with decent work for all, but the United Nations stands ready to help Member States going forward. She explained that the Organization is doing its utmost to mobilize the $28 million required for the Access to COVID‑19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility. Meanwhile, United Nations country teams stand ready to support the immediate roll‑out of vaccines and treatments and to help Governments put inclusive and sustainable recovery plans into operation.
In the coming months, the United Nations will release updated nationally determined contributions on climate, as well as a new global biodiversity framework, she said. The Organization will also bring stakeholders together in 2021 to find solutions in areas from food systems, education and gender equality to oceans, energy, digital connectivity and transport. Finally, it will step up efforts to mobilize greater resources for countries and peoples most in need, based on policy options that emerged from the Initiative on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID‑19 and Beyond. Taking the right decisions now will make it possible to meet humanitarian needs, reset development pathways, speed up implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and secure a life of dignity and opportunity for all on a safe and healthy planet, she said.
TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Director‑General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking via video-teleconference from Geneva, said that in its 75 years of existence, the United Nations has experienced many successes and challenges, but none like COVID‑19. While the crisis has strained the very fabric of multilateralism, it has also demonstrated the capabilities of the United Nations, with implications for every aspect of its work. Addressing such aspects as supply chains, mass gatherings and animal-human interface, WHO has worked closely with the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and others, providing personal protection equipment (PPE) to 179 countries and territories. “The pandemic is what humanity is capable of at its best and worst,” he said, but despite human compassion and strenuous scientific efforts, there have also been disturbing signs of blame-shifting and division. With 65 million infected and 1.5 million deaths, the health crisis is global, but not all countries have responded or been affected equally. Responses involving solidarity and sacrifice show the virus can be tamed and stopped, but where there is self‑interest, the virus thrives and spreads.
Citing the importance of investing in vaccines, he observed positive results in recent weeks reveal “the light at the end of the tunnel is growing steadily brighter.” However, we cannot accept a world where the poor and marginalized are stampeded by the rich and powerful in the rush for vaccines. In April, WHO established the Access to COVID‑19 Tools (ACT)‑Accelerator to deliver them and has already secured 120 million low-cost rapid tests and other provisions, with 189 countries and economies also participating in the COVAX Facility. However, he noted the ACT‑Accelerator faces a $4.3 billion funding gap, with a further $23.9 billion required in 2021 — just half of 1 per cent of the $11 trillion in stimulus announced by the Group of 20 (G‑20) countries thus far. Sharing the fruits of science is not charity, he said, but in the interests of every nation. Calling for investment in preparedness to prevent the next pandemic, he noted those States that previously experienced severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the influenza A virus (H1N1) fared better, and all must “develop that muscle memory”, he said. WHO is engaging with several countries to prepare a Universal Health and Preparedness Review, and he noted Switzerland is providing a high‑security lab for a biobank.
Investment in health for peace and prosperity is key, he stressed, as the pandemic is also a social, political, economic and humanitarian crisis. Pointing to a new WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All, he said the pandemic underlines why universal health coverage is so important. With many countries preparing free vaccinations for their populations, as ability to pay should not be the difference between sickness and health, life and death, he asked if that should not also be true for tuberculosis, malaria and other scourges. Strong primary health care “is the eyes and ears of every system”, he said. He further called for investment in multilateralism to safeguard our common future, as there is no vaccine for poverty, hunger, inequality or climate change. Rather than diverge into silos and splintered responses, the international community must choose convergence, collaboration and solidarity. Humanity has overcome many plagues and pandemics and will survive this one, but he emphasized that the world cannot return to the same exploitative patterns of consumption and divisive politics. The pandemic has brought humanity to a “fork in the road”, he said, and nations must not see themselves as rivals in a zero-sum game but as fellow travellers with the same aspirations, hopes and dreams, with diversity as strength.
Panel Discussion I
The Assembly then held a panel discussion on the theme “The United Nations Response to COVID‑19”. Moderated by Melissa Fleming, Under‑Secretary‑General for Global Communications, it featured presentations by Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme; Mark Lowcock, Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Michelle Bachelet Jeria, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; David Beasley, Executive Director, WFP; Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director, WFP; Inger Ashing, Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children International; and Asha Mohammed, Secretary‑General, Kenyan Red Cross, representing the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Ms. FLEMING said that the panel would seek to outline what worked well with the United Nations response, identify operational policy gaps and, importantly, what lessons can be learned.
Dr. RYAN said that “we are still in a very, very difficult and dangerous situation” with 4 million new cases and 70,000 deaths every week. The situation has not stabilized and countries out of major transmission may jump in, depending on the measures that they take going forward. Emphasizing the need for consistent and comprehensive strategies, he said that a vaccine is hopefully near, “but vaccination does not equal zero COVID”. Vaccines must be viewed as an addition to the existing arsenal of measures, he said, stressing that having a vaccine is one thing, but vaccinating people — and making vaccines available in a fair and equitable manner — is another challenge. “We must sustain the current effort” to bring the death rate down, potentially stop transmission and return to a new normal. Acknowledging the “all‑of‑world effort” by many actors who put competition and rivalries aside for the interests of Member States, he said the global response demonstrated what can be done when people work together, but that it also showed that when clarity and unity are lacking, “we do not do well”.
Mr. BEASELY warned of an alarming situation in terms of global hunger and food insecurity, with the number of people “marching towards starvation” spiking from 135 million to 270 million as the pandemic unfolded. Next year, however, is literally going to be catastrophic. Needs have doubled, but the required funds can be obtained, destabilization, famine and migration can be averted. “But we have to be out there sooner, not later,” he said. “Famine is literally on the horizon and we are talking about the next few months.” Noting how WFP stepped in to deliver aid when the global airline industry shut down at the start of the pandemic, he warned anew that 2021 risks becoming the worst humanitarian crisis since the founding of the United Nations “and we will have to step up”. With resources limited, priority must be given to the icebergs in front of the Titanic, he said, adding that while vaccines are on the horizon, the international community must put an end to ongoing conflicts and work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including zero hunger.
Mr. STEINER said the Sustainable Development Goals will serve as a compass for getting out of the COVID‑19 crisis. Acknowledging that the pandemic is having a terrible impact on development plans, he noted that the Human Development Index will go down this year for the first time in 30 years. Vulnerability is going to be a key criterion to focus on, when half the world’s population has no social protection, with many people in poor countries working in informal areas unable to earn a living right now. This has been a uniquely vital year in trying to demonstrate why the United Nations was created in the first place, he said. When UNDP was asked to take the lead in putting in place socioeconomic assessment and recovery plans, it managed to do so in just 100 days, which is a testament to the collective commitment to multilateral cooperation. In combating the pandemic since April, his department discovered that a lack of data in the midst of a crisis is very dangerous because millions of people will be missed, and funds will be misallocated. Looking forward, States will be confronted with extraordinary pressures, including middle‑economy countries and small island developing States. However, the initial attempt to mobilize funding is already running out, he warned, putting hundreds of millions of people in danger. While the G‑20 provided a degree of leadership, the response as a collective international community is not commensurate with the reality on the ground. In richer nations, stimulus packages amount to 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020, while the poorest countries are only able to mobilize about 2 per cent. Poverty is expensive in a pandemic, he said, warning that it is often women, young girls and children who are most affected. In that context, UNDP is continuing to help Governments make choices to mitigate poverty, in an effort to avoid a scenario where more than 1 billion people will be living in poverty by 2030.
Ms. MOHAMMED said that since the beginning of the outbreak, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and ICRC have been on the front lines of the response, supporting and complementing local action, including through contact tracing and working to confront the situation in prisons and refugee camps. It has been essential to integrate her organization’s response so the vital services it provides can continue while it pivots to offer COVID‑19 support, as well. It is important to know how the pandemic is going to unfold in conflict areas, she stressed, adding that they will need support ensuring vital health infrastructure and access to clean water and sanitation. Coordinating with the United Nations has been crucial to her organization’s response, and this has been the first time it has developed a Federation‑wide response plan. Turning to the distribution of a vaccine, she emphasized the importance of ensuring delivery to the hardest‑to‑reach places, including conflict zones and areas of detention, pointing out that 60‑70 million people live in areas not under Government control.
Mr. LOWCOCK, citing the just released 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview, said that the lives of 235 million people are at stake in the absence of humanitarian assistance — a 40 per cent increase. Poverty will go up for the first time in 20 years, while life expectancy and human development indices will fall. It will be a significant achievement if a major famine can be averted. One of the most shocking consequences of the pandemic has been the evident deterioration of behaviour among men towards women and girls. “All the stress, anxiety and frustration is, I’m afraid, being taken out in a very shocking way against women and girls all around the planet.” With $4 billion raised so far for the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID‑19, efforts so far are focused on, among other things, educating everyone worldwide about the coronavirus and ways not to contract it, using true information. Some $2 billion in social protection payments have gone out to the most vulnerable, while hygiene and water systems have been improved. However, the difference being made is much too small in relation to the challenge, he warned. Going forward, Member States, “rich billionaires” and foundations should help finance programmes set out in the Global Humanitarian Overview, particularly to prevent a resurgence of famine. Better‑off countries should instruct international financial institutions to ramp up their assistance to the poorest countries to stop more vulnerable people from falling into the humanitarian category. Emphasizing the need to get the vaccine roll‑out right, he said that it will be a challenge to deliver it amidst weakened health‑care systems. “Let’s not finance vaccines at the expense of food security programmes or routine vaccinations. That would make things worse,” he added. More help is needed to protect women and girls, he said, expressing frustration that so little support is given for relevant programmes when that should not be the case. He also pointed to the threat of a shake‑down among non‑governmental organizations, with half of such groups surveyed in Africa and the United Kingdom saying they are unsure that they will survive. “Think carefully about what institutions you want to survive, and invest in them,” he said.
Mr. GRANDI said that the pandemic has left 80 million refugees and internally displaced persons particularly vulnerable to health hazards and other consequences. Affected, too, are the millions of people in the countries that host refugees. The majority of refugees are in poor countries, a fact that requires a special focus. From day one, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has strived to be present wherever necessary. That was not easy when travel was difficult, but its staff found ways to adapt, using technology and building upon cooperation with indispensable local providers. That made it possible to avert major disaster among high concentrations of refugees in such places as Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, parts of Africa and the Greek islands, with emergency programmes focused on hygiene, health education, ad hoc infrastructure, mental health and communication. The generous humanitarian response triggered at the start of the emergency made it possible to prevent the worst. However, the refugee agency’s regular work still had to continue, responding to existing crises in several corners of Africa and in Latin America. Much work was focused on ensuring that, as States closed their borders, space would be found for refugees, and that restrictions on movement would be temporary. He expressed concern that refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants are among the first to lose their jobs and livelihoods when lockdowns and other measures are enacted. “What is needed is to ensure that these populations are included in the social safety nets and big economic relief packages that are being rolled out.” The same applies when vaccines become available. He went on to echo the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire, saying that it remains especially valid going into the pandemic’s next phase.
Ms. ASHING said the pandemic is a child’s rights crisis, which threatens to undermine decades of progress. This is the first time the world is experiencing an educational emergency of this proportion, she said, reporting that at the peak of the crisis over 1.6 billion learners were impacted, with some never returning to school. Child migrants or those living in conflict areas are the most vulnerable, and only becoming more so, she warned. Expressing grave concern over the effects of the pandemic on girls specifically, she said many reported that the prolonged school closures are having increasingly negative consequences on their lives. Child marriage will increase as poverty rises. In April 2020, UNDP projected that for every three months of lockdown, 15 million additional cases of gender-based violence occur. In addition, as many as 500,000 more girls are at risk of child marriage in 2020. Child marriage not only violates girls’ rights and puts them at risk of violence, but often results in pregnancies that are the main cause of death in girls between the ages of 15 and 19. Moreover, because of the restrictions in place, efforts to prevent violence and services to protect children and girls have not been able to function. To meet the increased need caused by COVID‑19, she called for the international community to fully fund humanitarian appeals with the inclusion of comprehensive sexual and reproductive rights measures. She also emphasized the need to collect more data and to ensure the participation of women and girls in recovery efforts.
Ms. BACHELET said the international community should not want to go back to the world before the pandemic, with its huge inequalities, weak economies and discrimination. The countries that have fared better in responding to the COVID‑19 crisis have strong health‑care systems, social services and authorities that provide consistent and fact‑based information and have taken special measures to enhance protections for the most vulnerable. Her department is working to make recommendations and develop guidelines based on the information it’s gathering from various sectors, but countries often don’t have enough data, especially where vulnerabilities intersect. As a result, Governments are in danger of leaving certain groups behind in pandemic response plans, which would then not have the potential to end chronic discrimination and inequality. Women have been most affected by the crisis, she said, pointing out that they make up the majority of the informal economy and usually bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities. Such circumstances threaten women’s gains in the labour markets. However, women have not been included in many of the panels that are crafting the pandemic responses, she pointed out. As such, there needs to be investment in universal health care and public health services, and protections established for people working in informal sectors and domestic work.
Asked by the Moderator to share key lessons learned, Mr. ABDULLA praised the manner through which the United Nations system and others came together, coordinated their work and “basically performed as one”. In his 30 years’ experience, he had never seen such a response. Mr. LOWCOCK agreed, saying that pandemics are exceptionally difficult to deal with. Going forward, the only constraint to doing more and reducing the extent of the human carnage is getting the needed resources. Mr. GRANDI said that getting sufficient resources will be crucial in 2021, when there will be a greater impact on aid budgets in donor countries. Short-term humanitarian assistance will bridge many gaps, but the United Nations global appeal requires a generous response. Ms. MOHAMMED said that the pandemic made clear the need to empower communities to act and take problems into their own hands. Ensuring access to hard‑to‑reach and marginalized communities is very critical as well, she added.
Asked to identify the most effective way to overcome the pandemic, Dr. RYAN said that behaviours that deprive the ability of the virus to jump from one human being to another must be sustained. That requires Governments to deliver good communications, a clear strategy and a decentralized response. A vaccine must be brought online as quickly as possible and distributed equitably. Looking beyond the pandemic, he said that the world cannot develop amnesia or walk away from the uncomfortable truths exposed by COVID‑19, such as climate justice and stronger health‑care systems. Ms. BACHELET said leaders must provide citizens with information that is based on science, alongside special protection measures for the most vulnerable. Mr. STEINER said that a sense of solidarity and common humanity must be encouraged. Sometimes, in the worst moments, it is not the richest nations that are most generous, but rather those that have experienced suffering themselves. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are struggling domestically, yet they have opened their doors to refugees. Ms. ASHING said that recovery strategies must invest in children and the long term. Civil society must be sustained and people listened to.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that even before the pandemic, the world was not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. She asked the panel to discuss what the United Nations is doing to ensure that small island developing States meet their development targets, especially in light of climate change and their burden of debt.
Mr. STEINER acknowledged the hardship faced by small island developing States, given the collapse of tourist revenues, as well as hurricanes and other natural hazards. Borrowing money is one way forward, but ultimately not a way out. Long-term approaches must be reviewed, and yardsticks for determining what countries require in times of need must start taking vulnerability into account.
The representative of the United States wondered how WHO’s thinking on asymptomatic spread of the virus has evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, and how it varies with age or region. She also pointed out that the data and tools used during previous pandemics didn’t fit the mold for COVID‑19. In light of that, she asked if middle- and upper‑income countries will qualify for the Global Vaccine Alliance and if the World Bank will make a waiver available for those countries.
Speaking on behalf of Mr. Ghebreyesus, IBRAHIMA SOCÉ FALL, Assistant Director‑General, Emergency Response, WHO, said that more than 80 per cent of the people who transmit the virus are symptomatic and make up the group most responsible for transmission. For that reason, it is important everyone continues to wear masks, whether they are experiencing symptoms or not.
Mr. LOWCOCK, in answer to the United States delegate’s second question, said that some countries will be better able to finance their own vaccine creation and distribution for themselves. The World Bank has already allocated funds for countries who will struggle the most, which reflects the original mandate of the Global Vaccine Alliance. However, some States that were better able to finance their own vaccine production and distribution in the past are no longer able to do so. That’s where the work of the COVAX Facility comes in. The answer is evolving but it will be important to address that question in a rational way before the first vaccines are released in the coming months.
Ms. BACHELET noted that the World Bank has predicted many of the countries falling into poverty will be middle‑income. Both because of the levels of infection and the fact that they are in a worse position to respond to the pandemic.
The representative of Morocco, noting low testing and sanitation capabilities of many African States, wondered how the United Nations country teams can help States with those issues. He also asked how the Organization could help countries combat the “infodemic” with fact-based information in news and social media outlets.
Dr. FALL said WHO had made significant progress in expanding testing capabilities in Africa since the beginning of the pandemic, but there remains much more to do. To that end, WHO is working closely with many partners and local communities, including on the “infodemic” question, so African countries are equipped to protect themselves and have access to the right messaging based on scientific facts.
Ms. BACHELET said faith leaders can be engaged to fight hate speech. UNHCR has been working with faith leaders, civil society and technology companies to help people differentiate between freedom of expression and hate speech and identify what should be done in the case of the latter.
Representatives of Turkey, Ecuador and South Africa also spoke.
Panel Discussion II
The Assembly then held a two-part panel discussion on the theme “The Road to a COVID‑19 Vaccine — A Global Public Good”, focusing first on science aspects. Moderated by Lyse Doucet, Presenter and Chief International Correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation, the first part of the panel featured presentations by Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, BioNtech; Sarah Gilbert, Oxford University; and Soumya Swaminathan, Executive Director and Chief Scientist, WHO.
Ms. DOUCET noted that this is a rare panel whose topic was of relevance to everyone in the world. Emphasizing that no one is safe until everyone is safe, she said that the panel features not just some of the world’s leading scientists involved in the search for a vaccine but some of the most successful ones.
Mr. ŞAHIN said that he is the founder of a biotech company developing novel approaches to treat infectious diseases, focused on cancer vaccines and messenger RNA vaccines. At the beginning of 2020, he recalled, the company was planning to start a number of cancer trials. On 24 January, he read an article about a family who traveled to Wuhan and got infected. He was alarmed when he learned that this is a new coronavirus where human‑to‑human infection happens extremely fast. It was clear that mankind would have no immunity to this disease, and it was also alarming that one of the family members who had the virus showed no signs of illness, he said. That meant that many infected people would be asymptomatic, thereby causing more rapid spread of the infection. He then went online, he said, and when he found out that Wuhan is one of the most connected cities in China, he realized that local outbreak would not be local, and in fact it had most likely already spread in a global fashion. It thus became clear to him and Dr. Türeci that this new outbreak would most likely become a pandemic, so they discussed with their colleagues and decided to switch from cancer vaccine development to COVID‑19 vaccine development. One of the key aspects of developing this vaccine involved aligning with different groups of scientists to do the research, given that there was no time to lose. “We created a 24/7 programme called Lightspeed,” he said, noting that the company partnered with colleagues from the United States as well as others. This international collaboration of scientists was able to share different competences, enabling them to come up with a safe and highly effective vaccine, he said.
Ms. GILBERT said that her work was focused on making vaccines adaptable, so that instead of reinventing the wheel for each one, it would be possible to create a platform that is generic to many different vaccines. Recalling WHO’s call to work on “Disease X”, which was based on the idea that there was going to be a new virus or possibly a bacterial pathogen emerging, she said that about 18 months ago, her laboratory started to plan how to move quickly from antigen to vaccine to clinical trials. “We hadn’t really done a great deal of work along those lines because we didn’t get the funding,” she said, adding that “the thinking was done but the practical aspects were not” when, unfortunately, the pandemic arrived. The funding has now been topped up, she said, recalling also the experience of manufacturing a MERS vaccine, for a virus closely related to COVID‑19. A problem for vaccine developers across the world has been understanding how strong immune response needs to be to protect against the coronavirus, she said, adding that defining the correct level of neutralizing antibodies helps with further clinical development for other vaccines as well. “We knew that it was possible to make a vaccine against the coronavirus, we just hadn’t done it for humans,” she said, adding that bringing together the money and collaborators enabled the process to get moving quickly. “We were able to make the first batch of vaccine that went into clinical trials in the UK on 23 April,” she said, noting that it was clearly important to work with a large manufacturing partner who would take on the manufacturing, distribution and eventual licensure. Accordingly, in April, the University started having discussions with AstraZeneca, bearing in mind that “we are making a vaccine for the world,” she said. The vaccine needed to have a broad and equitable distribution plan, so arrangements were made to test the vaccine in multiple locations around the world, and to include partnerships with companies like the Serum Institute of India, she said.
Dr. TÜRECI pointed to the difficulty in getting funding for innovation as well as for executing this innovation. We need a partner who is capable of producing, supporting and distributing, she said, and referred to the partnership with Pfizer. “Our vision is to provide our vaccine as quickly as possible,” she asserted, highlighting cooperation with all nations that approach them and with organizations like COVAX. This situation is new, and strategies must be set up to bring the vaccine to as many countries as possible, she said, noting that this can only work as a global effort and relentless collaboration with regulatory agencies, Governments, and organizations such as COVAX.
Dr.SWAMINATHAN said if it had not been for the investment in technologies and new modes of delivering vaccines, they would not have been able to move so quickly from discovering this new virus to having a vaccine going into trials. “It is a record, it is absolutely unbelievable that within about 320 days, from the genetic sequence of the new virus, a vaccine is being made public,” she stressed, pointing to the Chinese vaccine with an emergency use authorization. Stressing the important role played by WHO, she pointed to the creation of the R&D Blueprint. She put the preparatory work done in the last couple of years in comparison with the Ebola outbreak, which lacked coordination. In fact, “We lost an opportunity to learn a lot more from the Ebola outbreak,” she said, stressing that all the preparation over the last couple of years meant that early in January, they were able to mobilize global coordinating mechanisms. For instance, 400 scientists and researchers came together at the Global Forum in Geneva and created a road map for this disease. Vaccines have been developed on eight different platforms, she underlined, noting that the scientific community was hoping for at least 70 per cent efficacy. “We have been very happy that the first few results have exceeded that benchmark,” she said, adding that at the end of 2020, there is hope and optimism that vaccines will be able to cover a significant portion of the population.
Ms. GILBERT commented on the so‑called “infodemic” and the fight against conspiracy theories, and introduced the Vaccine Knowledge Project, a website that provides information about vaccines to those who have concerns and hesitancy. The website in part talks about the ingredients in vaccines, she said, describing aldehydes that are present in some vaccines. An aldehyde is a naturally occurring molecule, part of our own biochemistry, and it does not hurt us to receive a very small amount of this ingredient, she stressed. The website further elaborates on questions such as why we need to have more than one dose of a vaccine, and why we need to vaccinate against diseases such as measles, which kill children around the world. “As developers, we have to have the vaccines scrutinized by the regulators,” she added.
Dr. ŞAHIN said there are differences among vaccines — however, the goal of vaccination remains the same. A vaccine is an exposure of a pathogen to prepare the immune system and create a memory response, which could protect the individual from getting infected or make the disease less severe. Having different vaccines allows for comparing the efficacy and tolerability, he said, bringing up questions such as: What is the vector? How can we deliver the vaccine to the human body? He further welcomed the “incredibly transparent fashion” in which the scientific community shares data, and stressed that having a vaccine does not mean we are finished; we need to know how to distribute the vaccine and which distribution strategies are the best.
In response to a question about the seasonal nature of the virus, Dr. TÜRECI said that this coronavirus is antigenically stable, which means that it should not be necessary to vaccinate every season. However, she stressed the importance of continuing to monitor as new mutations occur, in case they are outside the efficacy of the vaccine.
Responding to a question about the rampant disinformation about various so‑called cures and conspiracy theories, Dr. SWAMINATHAN said that this “infodemic” can be extremely confusing. This is the first time that science is being carried out on the front pages of newspapers, she said, adding that vaccine trials have never been under so much public scrutiny. But when it seems that scientists are all contradicting each other, many people may wonder if scientists know what they’re doing. WHO has made huge investments into communication, particularly working with many of the big social media platforms and technology companies to guide people towards credible sources of information. “We’ve been working with them to take down posts that are misinforming people or creating fear and panic,” she said, adding that WHO is also trying to communicate as openly and transparently as possible, using simple language whenever it can. People also need to have trust in the public health authorities, and that calls for leadership at all levels, she said.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Algeria recalled the Secretary‑General’s call to ensure that future vaccines must be for a global public good. However, after the development of the first vaccines, various bilateral arrangements have been struck, he noted. How can the United Nations and WHO negotiate with vaccine producers to make it affordable, he asked, pointing out that access is not only about price but also about distribution.
Dr. TÜRECI said the key milestone of having vaccines has been and will be achieved in the next couple of months. The next key milestone is ensuring equitable supply and distribution and upscaling to global dimension all the vaccines that will have efficacy, she said, stressing that for this task, we will not be able to find solutions alone.
Ms. GILBERT said she is pleased to see the number of manufacturing partners that have been working on the vaccine. Manufacturing that has been set up with many partners is a huge technical effort, and achieving a high standard of technology transfer to make all the methodologies needed available and to ensure consistency of the product across the world is a challenge. She elaborated on the technology upon which the Oxford University vaccine is founded and pointed to the number of advantages the vaccine has — for instance, its ability to be manufactured in high amounts, its low cost and the fact that it can be refrigerated rather than frozen.
On achievability of the vaccine, she highlighted the multiple vaccines that are in an advanced stage of development and stressed that scientists have the responsibility to collaborate and share information needed for the development of other vaccines. It is a very good thing to have vaccines developed in many different ways, as this will provide us with a large number of doses, she asserted.
Dr. ŞAHIN said “there is no other way”; it is an achievable goal and we have to and will achieve it.
Dr. TÜRECI echoed those optimistic and confident sentiments, adding that we must continue to mobilize everyone who is a stakeholder.
Dr. SWAMINATHAN said scientifically and technologically, the vaccine is achievable. So many more vaccine candidates are in development, she said, adding that we will have several candidates for the vaccine and a lot depends on financing. We must ensure there are vaccines for everyone around the world, she underscored, noting that is the only way for the world to move ahead: It is “an enlightened self-interest for all countries” to vaccinate everybody around the world and not just their own citizens and populations. The year 2021 will test us — we will see if we make the right decision as a human race, she asserted.
The Assembly then proceeded to part two of its panel discussion on the theme “The Road to a COVID‑19 Vaccine — A Global Public Good”, focusing on vaccines for all. Moderated by Ms. Doucet, it featured presentations by Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI); Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF; Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and Andrew Witty, WHO Special Envoy for the ACT‑Accelerator partnership.
Ms. DOUCET said the discussion would now turn its focus to the alliances determined to ensure vaccines are affordable and accessible to all. Noting a lack of resources, she asked how GAVI was ensuring vaccine preparedness and what forms of assistance are being provided to ensure countries are ready to distribute personal protective equipment and medications.
Dr. BERKLEY said efforts are under way to ensure 2 billion doses of a vaccine are made available to those that would otherwise not be able to afford them, declaring: “We have 189 countries engaged in purchasing vaccines and ensuring they are made available to those that need them.” He said a fund was established to assist small economies in acquiring doses of a vaccine, with an additional $5 billion needed to purchase and distribute the adequate number of doses. For its part, GAVI set aside $150 million to work with partners in helping Member States set up distribution networks once vaccines are rolled out. Regarding concerns that all doses of the vaccines have been purchased already by wealthy countries, he said 2 billion doses for those in need is achievable in 2021. However, it remains a challenge to acquire early doses for high‑risk populations, including essential workers. “Through equitable distribution of a vaccine we can get the pandemic under control,” he stressed.
Ms. FORE said the market for personal protective equipment remains tumultuous, and the COVAX Facility is trying to level the playing field. “We are coordinating the procurement of vaccines and protective equipment for middle- and low‑income countries,” she noted, adding that Member States have shown support for these efforts. However, these initiatives will only be successful if countries have in place mechanisms to distribute the equipment and medications they receive. As such, teams are being deployed to assess storage capacities and distribution networks to ensure readiness and determine funding needs. “Every community has health‑care workers — often women — that are essential to guarantee trust of the materials that are being received,” she noted, adding that: “Health is not just one COVID‑19 vaccine, it is everything that continues to take place at health centres, from maternity needs to nutrition needs.”
Dr. HATCHETT underscored that COVAX is not just a procurement facility; it is deliberately designed as an end‑to‑end solution. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and GAVI work on funding, and UNICEF on the procurement and delivery piece, while WHO manages allocation and country readiness. He said he is still trying to solve the issue of supply for the current pandemic — the second of the twenty‑first century — noting that during the first pandemic of the century a handful of countries acquired most of the supply. Therefore, the race for bilateral arrangements was anticipated. At‑risk investments are put to use for research and development, and funding is used for manufacturing, and to secure access commitments. He noted that going just by the products invested in, COVAX should have the right of first refusal for 1 or 2 billion doses by next year. Moreover, it can also buy additional vaccines on the market. “We are not at the back of the line,” he said, adding: “This model can be used for future pandemics, as this won’t be the last.” The problem with rational self-interest of the private sector and countries acting in the interest of the populations they represent is that vaccines risk being concentrated in a few countries. “What COVAX brings by its very existence is to create a tremendous amount of pressure, and a dialogue of equitable access has been louder and more insistent than in the last pandemic,” he stressed, adding: “It has changed the conversation and created momentum in the direction of equity.” More innovation is critical so that the needs of all populations in all countries are served. More vaccines are required to meet everyone’s needs so they can be delivered in a variety of environments, from big cities to more austere environments. “We will need heat-stable, easily deliverable vaccines,” he said. Many of the first wave of vaccines will require two doses, which will be challenging to administer in many settings. “Scarcity is the enemy of equity,” he stressed, adding that the Coalition is working on adding to the existing portfolio of vaccines so everyone can be reached everywhere.
Mr. WITTY said the ACT‑Accelerator has a short‑term funding gap of $4.3 billion for fast‑tracking critical areas of work, and a gap of $30‑35 billion in the next few months. “We’re talking about the global population and the global economy,” he said, adding: “When you set that against the context of the economic damage and human toll that will continue next year, it’s a good proposition as an investment.” Another $5 billion is needed for low‑income countries by next year, as well as for diagnostics and therapeutic procurement. ACT aims to deliver a balanced solution. However, he added that despite the “unimaginable” scientific progress that has been achieved in the past year, the reality is that the entire world won’t get access to vaccines by the end of 2021. “We continue to need better therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as PPE and oxygen,” he said. However, turning to 2021, “The pathway to the exit has become illuminated,” he said. The public and private sectors must mobilize to make the procurements required. He noted that ACT is a coalition of various organizations, which work together and help one another while minimizing the risk of distraction. Organizations involved in ACT, including UNITAID and Wellcome, have been as relentless as scientists in looking for ways to help research, to get companies engaged and to create markets. They are trying to develop less expensive diagnostics, so that the whole world can have the benefits of the richest. They are also working on drug breakthroughs in monoclonal antibodies. He said he did not wish to entertain the idea that urgent funding needs are not, stressing: “The reasons to delay action are vaporizing before us.”
Ms. DOUCET asked panellists what challenges exist in moving from vaccine production towards vaccination and, citing polio immunization campaigns, also asked what strategies are in place to ensure public acceptance of vaccination programmes.
Dr. BERKLEY said GAVI and UNICEF have completely renewed the system for distributing goods at low temperatures — known as the cold chain — in developing countries. Further, work is underway to develop bespoke networks that will allow for vaccine distribution. He pointed to initiatives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as clear examples of how vaccines can be successfully distributed through a cold chain during armed conflict. He noted that other challenges persist, including regulatory obstacles and standardization of labels. Ms. FORE said cynicism regarding vaccination is a reality in the field, noting that: “It is important to have ongoing discussions about vaccine safety”. Authoritative information must be made available to ensure all segments of society have access to trusted resources, including through social media.
The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, expressed her commitment to fair access to vaccines and therapeutics and stressed that WHO remains the leading global health institution. Noting that the COVAX Facility met its funding needs for 2020, she urged renewed efforts to ensure funding needs for 2021 are met. She asked what the most critical challenges in rolling out a vaccination campaign in areas undergoing humanitarian crisis are and how distribution partners can ensure transparency.
Ms. FORE said the largest challenge is undoubtedly weak health care systems. “It is extremely hard for many countries to maintain equipment in good repair and ensure health centres are properly staffed,” he said. Mr. HATCHETT said the COVAX Facility is conducting full and open competitions to attract innovative approaches. However, in working with private sector partners it can be a challenge to ensure full transparency throughout the entire process. Dr. BERKLEY said GAVI’s goal is to improve the systems of all partners. Within those systems there may be a lack of transparency in a small number of cases. However, experience demonstrates that past initiatives have been open and transparent.
The representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, said if countries in the region stand a chance of swift recovery, it must be ensured that workers in the tourism industry and those with acute medical conditions are the first to receive vaccines. “Tourism workers are frontline workers,” he stressed. He asked what is being done to ensure equitable vaccine access to developing countries, including small island developing States.
Mr. WITTY said the issue highlighted the interdependency of countries. “If you want to sell more airlines, then you need islands to be reawakened for tourism,” he said. The COVAX Facility aims to ensure vaccine access to 20 per cent of populations. There is no point if wealthy countries come to life and expect the rest of the world to start reordering their planes, he said, expressing the hope that wealthy countries will contribute “aggressively” to strengthen COVAX’s efforts. Ms. FORE said work is underway to ensure there is good supply distribution in Central America and Latin America. “If you hear, as a tourist, that a country has facilities to test, isolate and treat, and that schools are open, you will have confidence to visit,” she said, adding, “If we can help with national plans, that will help with confidence.”
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of a group of States, said the world has been uplifted by the remarkable results of scientific cooperation, including vaccine trials and manufacturing partnerships across the world. He commended COVAX, as an unprecedented multilateral alliance which provides a path for equitable access to vaccines. However, more funding is urgently needed, he said, and renewed multilateral efforts are required to fight the virus. “Now is not the time for populist rhetoric,” he stressed. He asked about the biggest challenge of deployment and how multilateral organizations such as the United Nations can work to mitigate them, as well as how disinformation campaigns and vaccine scepticism can be countered.
Dr. HATCHETT responded that there are two challenges to procurement at present: a $1 billion gap for funding, as well as underestimated challenges related to manufacturing at scale. “The vaccines have been demonstrated to be safe and effective, but reliable manufacture at scale is a challenge that still must be overcome,” he observed. Mr. WITTY said more must be done to support ventures such as COVAX, as it drives contracts in the best interest of countries. Regularity harmonization should also be supported. He commended the swift approval process of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the United Kingdom and added that it would be unfortunate if other vaccines took lengthier approval times. “We need to keep it simple, and not complicate production schedules,” he stressed, adding, “The discovery challenge is one thing; the engineering challenge is not trivial.”
Asked by the moderator how experts can help counter misinformation regarding vaccines, Dr. BERKLEY said there will always be a small group of people that really oppose vaccines and a small group that are extremely eager to be vaccinated. Initiatives must first target the large segment of society that does not fall into either of those categories. “People trust leaders in their communities like doctors and religious figures,” he said, calling for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to ensure public trust in the vaccine production and distribution process.
The representative of Singapore stressed the relevance of vaccine multilateralism and the work of the COVAX Facility and asked what can be done to ensure early vaccine access for vulnerable countries and how those countries can prepare to receive vaccines.
The representative of Cameroon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, asked what must happen for a vaccine to be considered a global public good and how Africa can benefit from that categorization.
Dr. HATCHETT said the COVAX Facility is aiming to deliver a minimum of 2 billion doses of a vaccine and overcome inequities of distribution. “What we have seen in recent weeks with vaccine development is the emergence of transformative technologies,” he said, adding that such technologies will allow smaller States to prepare for future crises.
Mr. WITTY said African scientists are playing a significant role in the development of vaccines and the continent’s scientific community is going through rapid advances. “We have to make sure countries implement the lessons learned from past pandemics,” he said, adding that considering a vaccine a public good means everyone on the planet can have access to it. The focus should be how to achieve that by ensuring costs are low enough to make a vaccine affordable while at the same time incentivising vaccine developers.
Turning to questions from civil society, the moderator asked why the coronavirus had taken centre stage while other diseases continue to claim more lives. Dr. BERKLEY said that if health systems are overwhelmed, other diseases cannot be addressed. As such, by quickly making COVID‑19 vaccines accessible, countries can ensure their health systems do not become overwhelmed and can address other health challenges. Ms. FORE said it is essential to ensure routine immunizations are available and that schools remain open.
Panel Discussion III
The Assembly then held a panel discussion on the theme “Resilience and Recovering Better from COVID‑19”. Moderated by Femi Oke, international journalist, it featured presentations by Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director, WHO; Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Mari Pangestu, Managing Director, Development Policy and Partnerships, World Bank; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); Guy Ryder, Director‑General, International Labour Organization (ILO); Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary‑General, United Nations Development Coordination Office; and Pavan Sukhdev, President, World Wildlife Federation International and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Goodwill Ambassador.
Ms. OKE said the discussion would highlight the actions, platforms and focuses needed to overcome the COVID‑19 pandemic worldwide.
Dr. JAKAB said protection is needed for persons with disabilities and indigenous communities, especially women and girls. Although the world can now see light at the end of the COVID‑19 tunnel, it must still develop new tools through solidarity and working with partners, including the World Bank. Adding that the goal is to vaccinate all people by the end of 2021, she stressed that the vaccine is not only for richer countries, but poorer as well, which will need funding.
Ms. KANEM said the international community must listen to communities to learn which women are losing access to contraception as the pandemic goes on. Losing ability to control their fertility will lead to pregnancies, adding another burden to the virus and exposing more inequality. Moreover, as femicide could be exacerbated by the pandemic, the international community must learn how it can look after these women and their families. Women are currently receiving limited contributions from the global community when they need the maximum.
Ms. PANGESTU said the World Bank has arrived at a very gloomy assessment of the economic situation after eight months of evaluation. The lasting damage of the pandemic is creating economic and social setbacks around the world and taking countries away from their progress towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The World Bank is looking at ways to redouble its efforts to prevent economic harm and further damage, she said, noting that in order to build back better, the institution is providing emergency assistance for health and social needs. It is providing $12 billion in financing for vaccines, both for their purchase and their distribution. Testing and containment of the virus also must be in place. The international community and its institutions must be ready for the next crisis. Even though it is a huge organization, the World Bank adapted quickly to the crisis, she said, noting that within two weeks, its staff was working from home and had designed emergency programmes to work quickly. Working from home helped make the organization’s decision‑making more agile.
Ms. MLAMBO-NGCUKA said the international community needs to look at the opportunities emerging from this crisis. Women and girls have been particularly impacted and the international community must help them return to their pre‑pandemic lives, including through direct interventions in the informal sector. Government stimulus packages must be directed and packaged for women to help them deal with the crisis and to address underlying problems. She said there is blatant discrimination against women, and that Government officials must work with them to end it. It is more dangerous to be a woman than a man during a war. Governments make investments in guns and weapons, yet more needs to be invested in development, such as girls’ education.
Mr. RYDER stressed that there is nothing good about the current situation, which is a cataclysmic, global disaster that has set the international community back in many sectors. A big lesson learned is that the pandemic has left the most vulnerable behind, hitting them the hardest. The crisis has rubbed the world´s nose in failings like inequalities, which must be dealt with more quickly. Some people are getting hammered by the virus, especially young people who are losing jobs or are disadvantaged in seeking them.
Mr. PIPER said the global community must ensure it seeks the opportunity in front of it to “get things right”, to see the silver lining presented by the pandemic. It should anticipate tomorrow’s obstacles to making the world safer by managing risk. The most vulnerable were hit the hardest, he stressed, and are now being pushed further behind. Some people are lucky to be in salaried jobs allowing them to work from home, but others have lost their livelihoods. There is an urgent need to bring in markets and the private sector more creatively. The foundation of any recovery plan must be nation by nation, tackling structural issues and building back better in putting all back on the path to sustainability.
Mr. SUKHDEV said it was a good idea to think about prevention and not just a cure. The innovation of the business world has led to vaccines. But it was a mismanagement of the interaction between humans and nature that caused this pandemic, he said, adding that mismanagement also created HIV, SARS, and MERS, and it all happened very quickly. Deforestation also has contributed to the slew of exotic diseases. Investment is a key issue and there needs to be investment in people, not only in diseases and in institutions. He said 135 million people are suffering from acute hunger and the total will increase to 265 million by the end of 2020. There are about 300 million people who are going to lose school meals. While the global food system is broken, the movement towards natural farming is growing, which can help alleviate hunger as it produces a high yield of food at lower costs and without the environmental damage of commercial farming. This can provide jobs for women and empower them. He stressed that the world’s problems need to be solved by ideas rather than by focusing on different regions and issues. Noting that more than 300 million jobs have been lost, and women are suffering and at a disadvantage during the pandemic, he said natural farming can empower people by giving them jobs. For many people in the world, it can be done in their own backyards and be positive for the climate and environment.
During the ensuing discussion, the representative of China questioned whether recovering from the pandemic might bring new ideas for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. If the effort is people‑centred, how can the international community ensure the goals are implemented so that the vulnerable truly benefit? Responding, Mr. PIPER said political will is needed to ensure no one is left behind, especially concerning investments in education and health care, as well as creating a safety net for society’s weakest. Progress must be measured and tracked and voices given to those who need assistance the most. To the same query, Ms. KANEM noted that humanitarian space has become bigger in the last few years, with 38 per cent of her Agency’s budget now going to local communities. Dr. JAKAB said it was clear that COVID‑19 recovery must invest in preparedness and respond to workforce issues.
The representative of the Russian Federation asked what measures can be taken to address impediments to sustainable development that are created through unilateral coercive measures. The moderator identified these measures as sanctions. Dr. JAKAB said that in the humanitarian area, one must look at the public health outcome of these measures, which is not an easy situation. Each situation is different in each country and must be investigated and looked at in a humanitarian context. Mr. PIPER said there can be flexibility in dealing with these issues, and the United Nations is never shy about recognizing the negative impact of different sanction regimes. The Organization, he said, tries to minimize the impact of any sanctions on people. Ms. MLAMBO‑NGCUKA said it was necessary to work harder for countries under sanctions, citing the Sudan as a country where the United Nations is working very hard.
The representative of Canada said that the COVID‑19 pandemic began as a public health crisis yet has now become an emergency that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people, for whom there could be dire outcomes. Governments in advanced economies have been able to provide a stimulus package, but the stimulus has been much smaller in developing countries. The impact of COVID‑19 has fallen heavily on women and youth. She asked the panellists about the financial and climate crisis facing so many countries.
Ms. PANGESTU said the international response to the debt issue for emerging and developing countries had already been insufficient and the pandemic had exacerbated this problem. The G‑20 countries recently extended $14 billion in debt relief for vulnerable nations until the end of June 2021. This should help them focus on health care and emergency stimulus programmes, she said, adding that the participation of other creditors is needed. Noting that past debt crises have taken seven or eight years to resolve, she said there is a need to keep reducing debt, either the debt or the principal amount, so the countries have the fiscal space to respond to the pandemic. It is also necessary to work with IMF, Paris Club and other groups to find a common approach. Mr. SUKHDEV said prevention is better than a cure regarding the climate crisis. The international community needs to stop deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade, as well as to reduce emissions from food production.
The representative of Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of the African Group, questioned how practical stimulus packages could be if a country faced huge debt challenges. Responding, Ms. PANGESTU said the international community must deal with debt suspension, reduction or resolution, bringing in both official and non‑official creditors as well as the private sector. Debt transparency is also needed in getting through suspension or reduction exercises. In debt restructuring, the credit rating of a country must also be considered.
The representative of Barbados, speaking for CARICOM, said some nations have either deliberately or as a result of COVID‑19 decreased their official development assistance (ODA) commitments, placing financial constraints on those who need support. He also queried how nations in need could be ensured that funding for climate change would not also be scaled back. To that question, Mr. SUKHDEV stressed that the entire United Nations system must see the crisis as a wakeup call to take commitments seriously. Expressing solidarity with CARICOM, he reminded countries that they are responsible to future generations as well as those who suffer the most from climate change.
The representative of the European Union said a just and resilient global recovery is essential. The international community needs to protect the planet and its biodiversity through an approach that includes humans, animals and plants all levels — local, regional and global. It is also important to safeguard safe access to the digital infrastructure for everyone and mitigate the risks to privacy and human rights.
Continuation of General Debate
FILIPE NYUSI, President of Mozambique and speaking for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), noted that half of Africa’s COVID‑19 cases and two thirds of its deaths occurred in the SADC region. Regional Governments have had to make difficult decisions to save lives, preserve health‑care systems and keep economies afloat. Most SADC countries implemented strong public health measures to respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic – including lockdowns when health authorities deemed them necessary – but these measures have impacted economic development and limited cross‑border movement of persons, goods and essential services. An SADC assessment has revealed that efforts to strengthen regional economies have stalled due to an increase in inflation, which has further widened inequalities. He also highlighted other SADC pandemic‑response efforts, including the publishing of guidelines on moving goods and services across the region, on mutual recognition of COVID‑19 test certificates between Governments and on monitoring elections to ensure public health.
Expressing concern about the surging virus in Western countries, he said that it is uncertain how COVID‑19 vaccines will be distributed equitably. These vaccines will only achieve their intended purpose if they are made available in all corners of the world. For its part, SADC is collaborating with WHO to ensure that the region’s vaccination infrastructure is equipped to manage the requirements of certain vaccines. He called on the United Nations to utilize its mechanisms to ensure equitable access to these vaccines when they are available. He then detailed Mozambique’s national response strategy, noting that his country has learned lessons from the pandemic – including the decisive role of scientific evidence and the importance of proportionality for restrictive measures – before thanking the international community for supporting SADC procurement of biosecurity resources and essential medical equipment and supplies.
DATO ERYWAN PEHIN YUSOF, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam, detailing national measures put in place since March to mitigate the spread of the virus, said that his country has “maintained zero community spread cases since early May.” Preventative efforts continue, the education sector aims to avoid “a lost generation” by giving students laptops and subsidized Internet connection, and special support is provided to the underprivileged. During these hard times, comprehensive safety nets must be in place to secure physical and mental well‑being. Coordinated efforts on the national, regional and international levels have proved essential in addressing the COVID‑19 pandemic, efforts that are at “the heart of multilateralism.” Noting that several vaccines are being tested in human clinical trials, he underscored the importance of ensuring equitable distribution of tests, treatments and vaccines that are accessible and affordable to all.
ANŽE LOGAR, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, said that the pandemic has affected the lives of people around the world in ways that have never been imagined before. The international community needs to work with WHO, which is assisting Member States by developing, disseminating and updating guidance, tools, scientific data and evidence. Because the pandemic has additionally aggravated existing problems in developing countries, Slovenia has already responded by providing humanitarian and development assistance. Health must be a right for all and not the privilege of the few. Further, in the fight against the pandemic, universally agreed human rights norms and standards should not be compromised, he said, noting that it has had a devastating impact on the rights of the most vulnerable groups.
The representative of the United States said one of the most critical challenges posed by COVID‑19 has been the lack of transparency that has prolonged the pandemic and compounded its misery. The United States has been calling for full transparency and cooperation with the international scientific community and waiting for the WHO to act for a year, when “honesty could have sped relief”.
ALEX AZAR, Secretary of Health and Human Services of the United States, then recalled that the 1918 influenza pandemic had no regard for borders and nationalities, but States now have tools they did not possess earlier. In the United States, Operation Warp Speed has supported the development of six vaccine candidates, many of which have shown results that constitute “a stunning unprecedented scientific achievement”. In 1918, information about the virus was not made widely available until it was already raging around the world, but there is no excuse for such a situation today. He explained that the key issue is not where the virus first appeared, but whether information was shared in a timely and transparent way. However, the necessary information‑sharing did not happen, he observed, and this dereliction of duty has proven devastating. Recalling that the World Health Assembly directed WHO to investigate the origin of the virus, he noted that the results of this investigation will not be available until 2021, calling this timeline unacceptable. Moreover, he said some countries have attempted to take advantage of the pandemic to pursue economic, diplomatic or security gains with hard‑hit countries. The work of the United States on the COVID‑19 vaccine has been fully transparent, he noted, adding that tools will be made available to its partners and friends once it has taken care of its own people.
NASSER BOURITA, Minister for Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates of Morocco, said the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on economies and health systems, with countries now needing to come together to develop global economic recovery strategies. “We need responsible multilateralism,” he said, asserting that the pandemic exacerbates pre‑existing inequalities and is reversing development gains across the world. Efforts must be redoubled to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals can be attained by 2030, he said, warning the Assembly that African States face a disproportionate burden. For its part, Morocco is mobilizing all national resources to ensure an effective response to the pandemic with a special focus on addressing the needs of vulnerable populations.
CHRISTOPHER TUFTON, Minister for Health and Wellness of Jamaica, said that the pandemic strategies that guide his country are taken from its Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plan. Jamaica’s containment strategies have been swift and effective. Early in the crisis, it enhanced its surveillance measures at ports of entry and scaled up in-country surveillance programmes. Because Jamaica’s early public education campaign is the foundation on which all other strategies are implemented, the increased awareness led to early detection of cases. The country’s strong primary health-care foundation enabled it to mobilize its response in communities for case investigation and contact tracing. In addition, early implementation of contact tracing from the start has had positive results. The pandemic has brought about a rearrangement of every aspect of people’s lives. From the provision of health services to the operations of the economy, people are beginning to feel the effects of this “new normal” as they adjust to infection prevention and control protocols in every setting. This period is a period of massive learning, he said.
TANDI DORJI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bhutan, said the pandemic has infected 60 million and led to as many as 1.5 million deaths. It has caused multifaceted disruptions, which have impacted people’s lives and livelihoods. Its economic consequences continue to adversely affect millions, with the poorest hit hardest and development gains compromised, he stressed. Bhutan has taken timely action to respond to the pandemic, with an approach that combines medical expertise with compassion. It has witnessed zero deaths, while the number of those infected stands at 410, with 381 people recovered. The majority of cases were detected while in quarantine, he said. Bhutan has protected the most vulnerable and resilience of economy, making investments to revitalize the rural economy and create employment opportunities. He called for support for resource-strapped countries to help them access PPE and other vital tools to tackle the pandemic. The border closures have severely impacted the Bhutanese economy, he said. He called on the United Nations development system to support Bhutan so that the economic disruptions it has experienced due to the pandemic do not hamper its transition from being a less developed country and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
SIMON COVENEY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, said his country has benefited from expert advice and multilateral leadership from the United Nations and WHO. In turn, Ireland has contributed over $150 million to the global response to COVID-19, quadrupled its financial contribution to WHO, and supported Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund. Noting a crisis like the pandemic cannot be fought by national legislation alone, he pointed to a robust testing and contact-tracing strategy, along with incorporating non-pharmaceutical measures into daily lives, including face-coverings, social distancing and respiratory hygiene. His Government, having acted swiftly to ensure hospitals and intensive care units were not overrun, remains committed to tackling the pandemic as a national and international challenge of unprecedented scale in our lifetime.
ZBIGNIEW RAU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland, praising medical staff around the world for their dedication during the pandemic, stressed that Member States have the primary responsibility to take care of their citizens, but their efforts must be complemented with international response. All must act in solidarity to strengthen the global health system under the leadership of WHO and with support by all relevant parts of the United Nations system. Adding his support to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and humanitarian response plan, he said that his country has sent medical missions and equipment to those in need in several areas of the world, in addition to contributing to the European assistance framework. He called for universal access to affordable immunization against COVID-19, while urging that other challenges faced by the health sector not be forgotten during the pandemic, including mental and other non-communicable diseases, as well as humanitarian emergencies.
DMYTRO KULEBA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said that the COVID‑19 pandemic has upended almost every aspect of life and has evolved into a humanitarian, socioeconomic and human-rights crisis. Noting the need to overcome one of the most serious economic crises in a lifetime, he stressed that falling GDPs around the world are “not just statistics for experts”, but threaten a decreased quality of life for millions. Ukraine, for its part, has implemented innovative digital solutions to combat the spread of COVID‑19 — including new online services and resources to help travelers during the pandemic and digitized consular services — and his country is willing and able to share this experience with the international community. He also pointed out that — while the world is focused on a joint response to COVID‑19 — a small group of States have attempted to take advantage of the crisis, irresponsibly advancing their own narrow political interests and seeking to reduce the entire pandemic response to the issue of sanctions. He added that this only serves to harm international cooperation.
PAUL OQUIST KELLEY, Private Secretary for National Policies of Nicaragua, said that in 2020, “fear has gone viral.” Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will require confidence and hope in the future. Recalling the history of past economic depressions, he said they have resulted in 0.1 per cent of the world’s population controlling most of the world’s wealth. If the 2020s decade is witness to recurrent outbreaks and lockdowns, falling GDPs and other consequences, the current depression will become one of the collective psyche. Moreover, he described the coercive economic measures imposed on his country, noting that their continuation even during a pandemic raises their illegality to the level of a crime against humanity. He noted that 39 countries have been victim to this type of human rights violation by countries who consider themselves morally superior and are operating under a colonial and neocolonial mentality. Nicaragua has been affected in 2020 by both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, with two hurricanes affecting its Caribbean coast in November. If equal access to vaccines is not made available, there can be no inclusive recovery, but instead the world will take another step towards extreme inequality, he warned.
MARTA TEMIDO, Minister for Health of Portugal, said that, among the multiple important lessons to be learned from the pandemic, perhaps none is more valuable than the one which lies at the base of the multilateral approach: only by working together can the global community mitigate the effects of the virus and prevent the emergence of a similar crisis in the future. The Access to COVID‑19 Tools Accelerator, which aims to develop, produce and equitably distribute diagnostics, therapies and vaccines for COVID‑19, is an historic example of global collaboration and Portugal is proud to support it. Health is a human right and States must take measures to ensure the access of all, without discrimination, to universal health coverage. The pandemic has been the perfect setting for the spread of misinformation, which in turn has cost lives. Without the spread of correct information, diagnostic tests will go unused and the virus will continue to thrive.
BOGDAN AURESCU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, associating himself with the European Union, said that his country’s pandemic‑fighting policies are focused on preventing COVID‑19’s spread, strengthening the capacities of the health system and raising public awareness of virus risks. At the same time, Romania has also paid special attention to the continuation of its economic activities in all sectors where this approach was possible. Romania has redirected more than half of its budget for international development cooperation to respond to the pandemic, with special emphasis on consolidating the institutional capacity of health systems and on countering fake news in the COVID‑19 context. Romania also ensured that refugees were included in its national public health coverage and their access to all necessary medical facilities was ensured.
MOHAMED SIALA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Libya, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, hoped the special meeting will strengthen solidarity in the fight against COVID‑19. The pandemic does not recognize borders and has led to loss of lives and economic repercussions. It threatens to reverse progress in the eradication, hunger and achievement of food security. Its harmful effects particularly impact poor countries and those experiencing armed conflict. “This terrifying virus and its catastrophic effects, while unequally distributed, have spared no one,” he stressed. He called for the tools to combat the pandemic to be available to all and hoped the role of WHO would be strengthened to ensure the vaccines are accessible and affordable. On the recent conflict, he said Libya had “no choice but to push back the aggressor”. However, it responded to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire by declaring its own and hopes the other party will uphold it. “We can now concentrate on fighting the pandemic,” he said. He outlined measures taken by the country to tackle the pandemic, including the provision of testing equipment, and amending a law which now ensures medical coverage for all citizens. On the issue of migrants detained in the country, he called on United Nations donors to provide food and medical assistance essential to their survival of migrants and to ensure their dignified return to their countries of origin.
DJACOBA LIVA TEHINDRAZANARIVELO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Madagascar, detailed how domestic efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic initially utilized local human and material resources but, as the pandemic progressed, international organizations like WHO helped bolster the country’s national response plan. He also stated that the President of Madagascar took the unprecedented step to leverage national scientific capacity and natural resources — including medicinal plants — to create COVID-Organics, a natural remedy for the virus. The international community must prevent the current health crisis from compounding other crises, and work to reduce the gap between nations in terms of access to health care, to the fruits of medical research and to innovative life-saving technology. He added that international solidary in this regard will facilitate a definitive and swift emergence from this crisis.
DINESH GUNAWARDENA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, highlighted his country’s National Operation Centre for the Prevention of COVID‑19 Outbreak, which was established to carry out operations to combat the pandemic. In addition, a digital platform is facilitating public engagement for contact tracing, while the Presidential Task Force on COVID‑19 Prevention effectively coordinates these measures. The country’s free universal health‑care facility has also lessened the spread of the virus. In addressing the socioeconomic impact caused by the pandemic, the Government has given financial relief and dry rations to over 6 million families and vulnerable groups. It also established a COVID‑19 health‑care and social security fund. Since many countries are facing repeated waves of the virus, the WHO ACT‑Accelerator should be facilitated by all stakeholders, he said.
FEDERICO ALBERTO GONZÁLEZ FRANCO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said his country adopted early preventive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus and was able to move towards implementing recovery measures to assist vulnerable populations. In response to the large-scale economic and social needs of the population, the Government is focusing on social protection and job creation policies. He drew attention to the needs of landlocked developing countries, which are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and urged such States be granted easier access to banking and financial services. “The 2030 Agenda is our road map to recovery and to prevent future crises,” he concluded.
MATTHEW JOHN DAVID HANCOCK, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care of the United Kingdom, said that while the coronavirus attacks us all because we are human, “it is that common humanity which brings us all together”. The United Kingdom supports marshalling efforts against the pandemic and has stepped up its contribution to WHO by 30 per cent to as much as $450 million over the next four years, he said, encouraging other others to do so. It is also the biggest donor to GAVI and has helped raise money to immunize children against deadly disease. Moreover, the country’s flagship COVID-19 clinical trial has helped prove the efficacy of life-saving treatments such as dexamethasone. Noting that the United Kingdom will begin its Group of 7 presidency in 2021, he described its five-point global approach to health, which called for a better understanding of the interactions between humans and animals and their shared environment, as well as a renewed focus on vaccines and therapeutics, which mitigates antimicrobial resistance, which he called “a slow-building pandemic”. Moreover, better early warning systems must be built, which can scan the horizon for threats, and for the right protocols if “the worst happens again”. He called for export controls on vital items such as clinical products to be lifted and for tariffs to be cancelled. The United Kingdom will do so in January and hopes other countries will take similar measures. “The roll-out of safe vaccines is a matter of international importance as no one is safe until everyone is safe,” he stressed, adding that vaccines must be accessible to all.
GINÉS GONZÁLEZ GARCÍA, Minister for Health of Argentina, stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is more than a health crisis, but one that affects all aspects of life. It affords the international community a unique opportunity to give new meaning to solidary on the road to recovery, one which is equitable and inclusive. In Argentina, implementation of health, social and economic measures have allowed it to strengthen health facilities in all provinces. The country has used its textile industry to produce PPE and has set up a national equity fund to ensure there is comprehensive health coverage for all. It also is strongly committed to ensuring access to vaccines, medicines and other equipment for all its people. Argentina has paid in advance for 9 million doses of the vaccine and is collaborating with Mexico to produce 150-250 million doses of vaccine for Latin America.
SIGRID KAAG, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development of the Netherlands, said the pandemic has created much sorrow and caused much loss. Now it can take the world onto a path of change. The international community needs to make choices that can make the world more sustainable and resilient. Multilateral cooperation is needed. WHO needs structural solutions. There needs to be better monitoring. Swift investigations of virus outbreaks are crucial, as is recovery from the pandemic. She encouraged all countries to join the ACT-Accelerator partnership. It is important to be aware of gender equality and youth when combating the virus. There is a clear path ahead and the international community must take it.
DAVID ZALKALIANI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia, noting that 2020 has been an extraordinary year that tested the health, strength and resilience of the international community, reminded the Assembly of doctors and other essential workers who have been on the front line of the fight against the virus. Expressing gratitude to WHO Europe’s Regional Office for its support, he lauded the unprecedented global cooperation directed to the rapid development of the COVID‑19 vaccine. Once the vaccine is finally approved, the international community must ensure it is fairly distributed and universally accessible. In the battle against COVID‑19, Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is continuously targeted by a Security Council permanent member, he said. The illegal occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia by the Russian Federation is causing suffering for the conflict‑affected people. The Russian Federation is ignoring the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire, he said, adding that Georgia will continue on the path of democracy, peace, and economic strengthening as it moves towards European and Euro‑Atlantic integration.
SHIRLEY AYORKOR BOTCHWEY, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana, said the Government hosts a regional humanitarian pandemic‑response hub that enables WHO and WFP to undertake medical evacuation services and aviation operations in the region. Ghana’s national efforts are focused on combating the national spread of the virus while providing adequate care for the sick, as well as on strengthening governance and deepening self‑reliance. To ease the socioeconomic burden on the population, the Government is providing free water to all households and subsidising electricity expenses for a large segment of the country. She called on international financial and development institutions to support national recovery efforts.
GEORGE WEAH, President of Liberia, declared: “This virus has triggered dire health and psychosocial despair, as well as increased stagnation to the global economy.” The pandemic must act as a wake-up call for the international community to formulate an equal and robust response, he said, noting that Liberia avoided the worst of the pandemic in part due to its experience in dealing with the Ebola epidemic that hit the country six years ago. However, Liberia has not been spared an increase in gender-based violence amid the pandemic and has declared a national rape emergency. To alleviate the economic impact of COVID‑19, a recovery plan targeting the agriculture and tourism sectors is being implemented, he noted.
GEOFFREY ONYEAMA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, said that this special session of the General Assembly provides a unique opportunity for a collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic to contain the virus and recover from the crisis. While Member States have taken “extraordinary measures” to combat the pandemic — including implementing lockdowns, increasing testing and providing palliative support — many are now experiencing a second wave of infections. He urged that the most effective means to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis is through global solidarity and cooperation. He also acknowledged the central role played by the United Nations and WHO in fighting COVID-19, but expressed concern that developing countries will be left behind if the United Nations does not adopt a global approach to containing the pandemic. He urged all stakeholders to ensure that vaccines are safe, accessible and affordable, and called on WHO to ensure that lab tests and human vaccine trials are conducted in accordance with medical standards and protocol.
The President of the General Assembly, noting the late hour, then proposed that the special session continue at a later date to be announced, which the Assembly approved without a vote.
He next turned to the matter of the credentials of representatives to the thirty-first special session, proposing that the General Assembly — in light of, inter alia, the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the short duration of the special session — accept the credentials approved for the seventy-fifth regular session for purposes of the thirty-first special session on an exceptional basis. The Assembly so approved without a vote.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), President of the Security Council, said the COVID-19 pandemic has put immense pressure on national health systems and is ravaging lives globally and threatening livelihoods. Calling for the strengthening of the multilateral system’s capacity to address global health emergencies, he expressed concern over the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on women and girls, children, refugees, internally displaced persons, older persons, and persons with disabilities. The Security Council has recognized that the peacebuilding and development gains made by countries in transition and post-conflict countries could be reversed in this context. However, the pandemic also provides the opportunity to decisively end violence and hostilities. In July, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2532 (2020), which demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda. He noted with encouragement that some heeded this call, but expressed regret that others did not. Moreover, the Security Council held three public meetings on the pandemic’s impact on peace and security. The meeting in September considered progress on the implementation of resolution 2532 (2020), he reported, calling for international cooperation and solidarity to fight the pandemic and ensure that no one is left behind.
Mr. BOZKIR closed the special session on COVID-19, declaring: “The high level of representation during the special session illustrates the commitment of all Member States to end this pandemic.” The session shed light on the wide range of stakeholders working tirelessly to mitigate the health crisis and discussions on vaccines offered hope of progress. “We will continue to work towards achieving vaccines for all,” he stated, adding that only so can the international community uphold its pledge to leave no one behind. He concluded by stating that in 2020 the world marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations as, in the face of an unprecedented crisis, the Organization stepped up to meet the needs of everyone, everywhere. “It is the year that solidarity was our first and best line of defence, as Member States united, to combat this existential threat to humanity.”