New York

31 March 2020

Transcript of UN Secretary-General’s virtual press encounter to launch the Report on the Socio-Economic Impacts of COVID-19

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 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 socio-economic 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.

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 those less developed 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 with the African continent, and I strongly encourage the G20 to move ahead with a G20 Africa initiative as proposed at the Summit.

Second, we must tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of this crisis, with a focus on the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium 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 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 International Monetary Fund, 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 socio-economic shock. 

UN Resident Coordinators worldwide will be the drivers of the UN 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 roadmap is the 2030 Agenda 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.

Thank you.

            **Questions and Answers
 
Spokesman:  Thank you very much. Sir, a number of journalists are asking similar questions. The message you are delivering in this report is very similar to the message to the G20 leaders last week. What has been their response, from President [Donald] Trump, Angela Merkel and others? And is there a financial goal for the COVID‑19 recovery fund you are launching?
 
Secretary-General:  I think that the G20 was a step in the right direction, but I think we are still very far from where we need to be to effectively fight the COVID‑19 worldwide and to be able to tackle the negative impacts on the global economy and the global societies.
 
First, we still do not have a coordinated action of all countries to suppress the virus under the guidance of the World Health Organization. Guidelines from the World Health Organization were not respected in many countries of the world, and there was a tendency for each one to go its own way. We absolutely need an articulated action in which all countries join the same efforts in order to commonly suppress the transmission following the guidance of the World Health Organization.
 
And, second, if it is true that we have already witnessed the mobilisation of 5 trillion US dollars, we are still far what is needed and especially because most of what was mobilised was by the developed world to support their own economies. We are far from having a global package to help the developing world to create the conditions both to suppress the disease and to address the dramatic consequences in their populations, in the people that lost their jobs, the small companies that are operating and risk to disappear, those that live with the informal economy that now have no chance to survive. There is a lot that needs to be done, and massive support to the developing world is still required. We are not yet there, but I hope we will be moving in that direction.
 
Spokesman:  Moving on from there, you cite the global recession for 2020‑21. How can the UN deal with both a response to the pandemic and an economic downturn at the same time?
 
Secretary-General:  Well, it is clear we need to mobilise new resources. What we have witnessed, for instance, in a country like the United States was the Congress approving a package of 2 trillion US dollars, which corresponds almost to 10 per cent of the American economy. And I believe that we need to do the same at global level, which means, for instance, when we issue special drawing rights, we are printing money that will allow the developing countries to be able to respond also in an effective way through the support of International Monetary Fund.
 
We need to have innovative financial instruments. This is not going to be done as usual. It's not through some donations coming from rich countries to poor countries. Now, we need to look into all the possibilities of innovative actions in the financial systems in order to create the mechanisms that will allow the developing world also to be able to respond to the crisis. If not, if the developing world has not resources both to suppress the transmission and to address the socioeconomic consequences of the virus, then we have the risk of ‑‑ and Africa is, for me, the main concern ‑‑ we have the risk of the virus spreading like wildfire in the global South, with consequences that inevitably are tragic for the global South itself. Millions of people will die but with the possibility of things coming back and all the efforts made in the global North to be put again and the question. This is the moment of solidarity, not only because of generosity but because of the enlightened self‑interest of everybody.
 
Spokesman:  There are also questions relating to your call for a global ceasefire. We have seen the legitimate Government of Libyan National Accord appealing to you and the Security Council to protect civilians. We're seeing attacks in Yemen, in Iraq, and in North Korean testing. What is your assessment of your global call so far?
 
Secretary-General:  We'll be presenting, before the end of the week, a report, and I will be reporting to the international community as a whole and the global public opinion on what is happening and what we are doing.
 
There was a positive response from many supporting the global ceasefire I asked for, in different societies, in different governments, in different entities; of course, the Holy Father being probably the most relevant, and many of the parties to conflicts in different parts of the world have said that they were ready to accept it. But there is a big difference between being ready to accept it and implementing it on the ground.
 
So, at the present moment, all our special representatives, special envoys, some resident coordinators, depending on the situation of the country, are working hard to bring the parties to the conflict together to see if we can move from good intentions to reality. We are not yet there. There were some improvements here and there. In other countries, we see an aggravation of the situation, but we are working hard to make sure that those that have made the promise will be able to stick to it and will be able to accept practical conditions for the ceasefires to become a reality. We are doing everything we can to make it happen.
 
Of course, it's not very easy. It's very challenging. These are old conflicts, lots of spoilers and, unfortunately, a lot of mistrust that was built during years and years of conflict.
 
Spokesman:  Also, what global leaders have you been in touch with? And what has been your message to them over the phone in the last week?
 
Secretary-General:  I mean, I was in contact with leaders of the G20. I've been in contact with many African leaders and especially where we have peacekeeping and other operations. I've been in contact with others that are relevant in the conflicts that we have today, and I have to say that there is a growing consciousness that we are in this together and we need to come out of it together.
 
The problem is how to create the practical ways to do so. For instance, there was, in the G20, from President [Emmanuel] Macron, from President [Vladimir] Putin, from Prime Minister Angela Merkel, the clear idea that there should be a G20 initiative on Africa, and I fully support that idea. But, again, we must act quickly to make it happen. If not, the African continent will have enormous difficulties in facing this challenge.
 
So, we are slowly moving in the right direction, but we need to speed up, and we need to do much more if we want to defeat the virus and if we want to support the people in need.
 
This is not a financial crisis. This is a human crisis. This is not a question of just bringing liquidity to the financial systems, which, of course, is necessary. We need to support directly those that lose their jobs, those that lose their salaries, the small companies that cannot operate anymore, all those that are the fabrics of our societies, and we need to make sure that we keep thousands afloat, we keep small companies afloat, we keep all societies afloat.
 
Spokesman:  Last week, you launched the $2 billion fund. Are you thinking of expanding it to other countries like Pakistan who may need help and, also, a question about how the UN can help the people of Gaza?
 
Secretary-General:  Those were requests for the countries where we already have humanitarian operations, but we are ready to consider its expansion to other situations that might require it; and, indeed, Pakistan is a country with whom we have been in contact because there is a large number of Afghan refugees, and there is also now a meaningful impact of COVID‑19. So, we will be progressively enlarging the scope of these requests for support. 
 
And it is complemented by the Trust Fund we are launching today that aims essentially at recovery and in developing countries, both low‑income countries and middle‑income countries. So, I hope that there will be a positive response from the international community in order for us to be able to support those that are in more fragile and dramatic circumstances ‑‑ refugees, internally displaced people, people in the slums of big cities in the global South, people in very fragile countries ‑‑ but at the same time, that we're able to respond to the poor. Let's not forget, there are more poor in middle‑income countries than in the least developed countries. So, we need to be able to address the vulnerable ones wherever they are.
 
Spokesman:  And last question, you said this was the worst global crisis since the UN was founded. What is your reasoning for saying that?
 
Secretary-General:  Well, because it is a combination, on one hand, of a disease that represents a threat to everybody in the world and, second, because it has an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past. The combination of the two facts and the risk that it contributes to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict are things that make us believe that this is, indeed, the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War and the one that needs a stronger and more effective response that is only possible in solidarity if everybody come together and if we forget political games and understand that it is humankind that is at stake.
 
Spokesman:  Thank you very much, sir. Thank you all for watching. We hope to have other encounters with the Secretary‑General and the media later this week. In the meantime, thank you very much, and have a good day.