UN Headquarters

28 February 2020

Opening remarks to the press on Syria and COVID-19

António Guterres

In recent days I have warned repeatedly about the risk of a serious escalation of the hostilities in northwest Syria.
I fear that with the events of the past 24 hours, we have reached that point.
This is one of the most alarming moments across the duration of the Syrian conflict.
Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour.
And as always, civilians are paying the gravest price.
Nearly 1 million people have fled their homes in the past three months.
Airstrikes have continued to hit schools and medical facilities.
Even camps and other sites where displaced families have sought shelter have been struck by shelling.
And as the noose keeps tightening, and as the frontlines are moving, they reach more densely populated areas.
The most pressing need is an immediate ceasefire before the situation gets entirely out of control.
In all my contacts with those involved, I have had one simple message: step back from the edge of escalation.
I also reiterate my appeal for civilian protection. 
The conflict in Syria will soon enter its tenth year.
A decade of fighting has brought nothing but ruin and misery.
There is no military solution. The only path is a UN-facilitated political process pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254.  I remind everyone that the resolution called for a nationwide ceasefire.
Now it is the time to give a chance for diplomacy to work and it is essential that fighting stops.
Let me now say a few words about the coronavirus.
Today the World Health Organization raised the risk assessment of COVID-19 to very high at the global level. 
We are seeing cases in a number of new countries, including now also the African continent. 
This not a time for panic – it is time to be prepared – fully prepared. 
As WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros said – the “greatest enemy right now is not the virus.  It is fear, rumours and stigma.”
Now is the time for all governments to step up and do everything possible to contain the disease – and to do so without stigmatization, and respecting human rights. 
We know containment is possible, but the window of opportunity is narrowing.
And so I appeal for solidarity and full global support, but with all countries fully assuming their responsibilities. 
As they do so, they can count on the support of the United Nations and naturally of the World Health Organization, that is part of our family.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Talal?