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SG/SM/20029
31 March 2020

‘We Are Only as Strong as the Weakest’, Secretary-General Stresses, at Launch of Economic Report on COVID-19 Pandemic

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the launch of a report on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, in New York today:

The world is facing an unprecedented test.  And this is the moment of truth. Hundreds of thousands of people are falling seriously ill from COVID-19, and the disease is spreading exponentially in many places.  Societies are in turmoil and economies are in a nose-dive.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has reassessed the prospect for growth for 2020 and 2021, declaring that we have entered a recession — as bad as or worse than in 2009.

We must respond decisively, innovatively and together to suppress the spread of the virus and address the socioeconomic devastation that COVID-19 is causing in all regions.  The magnitude of the response must match the scale of the crisis — large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive, with country and international responses being guided by the World Health Organization (WHO).  And it must be multilateral, with countries showing solidarity to the most vulnerable communities and nations.

The message of the report we are issuing today is clear:  shared responsibility and global solidarity in response to the impacts of COVID-19.  It is a call to action.

First, for an immediate coordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic.  A response that scales up health capacity for testing, tracing, quarantine and treatment, while keeping first responders safe, combined with measures to restrict movement and contact.  A response that delivers universal access to treatment and vaccines, when they are ready.

It is essential that developed countries immediately assist less developed ones to bolster their health systems and their response capacity to stop transmission.  Otherwise, we face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the global South, with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed.

Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.  I am particularly concerned about the African continent, and I strongly encourage the “Group of 20” countries to move ahead with a G20 Africa initiative as proposed at [the recent G20] Summit.

Second, we must tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of this crisis, with a focus on those most affected:  women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium-sized enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups, especially those in humanitarian and conflict settings.

We must see countries not only united to beat the virus, but also to tackle its profound consequences.  That means designing fiscal and monetary policies able to support the direct provision of resources to support workers and households, the provision of health and unemployment insurance, scaled-up social protection and support to businesses to prevent bankruptcies and massive job losses.

What is needed is a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP).   Developed countries can do it by themselves, and some are indeed doing so.

But, we must massively increase the resources available to the developing world by expanding the capacity of the IMF — namely through the issuance of special drawing rights — and the other international financial institutions to rapidly inject resources into the countries that need them.  Coordinated swaps among central banks can also bring liquidity to emerging economies.  Debt alleviation must be a priority, including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020.

The United Nations system is fully mobilized, providing guidance for global efforts, supporting country responses and placing our supply chains at the world’s disposal.  And to support our efforts, the United Nations is establishing a new multi-partner Trust Fund for COVID-19 Response and Recovery to support low- and middle-income countries to respond to the emergency and recover from the socioeconomic shock.

United Nations Resident Coordinators worldwide will be the drivers of the Organization’s response on the ground, ensuring that the wide and diverse expertise and assets of the United Nations system are used in the most efficient and effective way to support countries.

Finally, when we get past this crisis — which we will — we will face a choice.  We can go back to the world as it was before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises.  Our road map is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to a different economy.  Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and the many other global challenges we face.

What the world needs now is solidarity.  With solidarity we can defeat the virus and build a better world.

For information media. Not an official record.