As the physical and societal impact of the coronavirus-pandemic become clearer by the day, the global community struggles to contain the spread and limit damage to national economies.
Speaking to the leaders of the world’s major industrial nations at the G-20, Antonio Guterres said “the world is only as strong as our weakest health system”.
Nations facing conflict and those nations under economic sanctions that limit their ability to fight COVID-19 are currently the most vulnerable with the weakest health systems.
After an earlier call from the Secretary General for a global ceasefire, now a group of nations have asked Antonio Guterres to “reject the politicization of such a pandemic” in a call for a temporary lift on sanctions.
Ambassadors from China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela appealed to Guterres to “call for the complete and immediate lifting of these illegal, coercive and arbitrary measures of economic pressure […] in order to ensure the full, effective and efficient response of all members of the international community to the COVID-19.”
On Wednesday, March 25, the UN Secretary General echoed the calls to the G-20. Appealing to the self-interest of National leaders, he said: “If we do not act decisively now, I fear the virus will establish a foothold in the most fragile countries, leaving the whole world vulnerable as it continues to circle the planet, paying no mind to borders.”
The UN reported that the Secretary General urged G-20 leaders to commit to ban all limits to international trade, including international sanctions. He emphasized the need for access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support in order to combat the pandemic.
“This is the time for solidarity not exclusion,” he underlined.
Guterres painted a bleak picture of the situation of countries in need of assistance: “These are places where people who have been forced to flee their homes because of bombs, violence or floods are living under plastic sheets in fields, or crammed into refugee camps or informal settlements. They do not have homes in which to socially distance or self-isolate.”
He highlighted how, for many people, even basic containment measures are impossible to uphold.
“They lack clean water and soap with which to do that most basic act of self-protection against the virus – washing their hands. And should they become critically ill, they have no way of accessing a healthcare system that can provide a hospital bed and a ventilator,” Guterres explained.
Neither Guterres nor the group of ambassadors pointed at any specific countries, however most are under sanctions from the EU and the USA.
Guterres closed his speech succinctly: ”We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable – millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves. This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combatting the virus.”