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Guterres warns of losing COVID-19 war as UN agencies continue relentless efforts

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 08:59, March 27, 2020

"This war needs a wartime plan to fight it," the UN chief told a virtual meeting of G20 leaders. He asked for massive stimulus to minimize the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNITED NATIONS, March 26 (Xinhua) -- While UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Group of 20 (G20) leaders on Thursday, "We are at war with a virus -- and not winning," UN entities around the world are unrelenting in providing aid to fight COVID-19.

"This war needs a wartime plan to fight it," he told a virtual meeting of G20 leaders. "Solidarity is essential among the G20 and with the developing world, including countries in conflict."

"All countries must be able to combine systematic testing, tracing, quarantining and treatment with restrictions on movement and contact, aiming to suppress transmission of the virus. And they have to coordinate the exit strategy to keep it suppressed until a vaccine becomes available," the UN chief said.

He asked for massive stimulus to minimize the social and economic impact of the pandemic, and for support for developing countries in increasing their response capacity.

Guterres also appealed for the lifting of sanctions that can undermine countries' capacity to respond to the pandemic.

During a virtual press briefing, Stephane Dujarric, chief spokesman for Guterres, elaborated on some of those conflicts and on other countries where the world organization is fighting the virus.

"We are deeply concerned about the potential impact of the virus on millions of people across Syria and particularly the over 900,000 people who remain displaced due to hostilities since Dec. 1 in the country's northwest," he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the displaced live in overcrowded conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections. There are currently over 6 million internally displaced people throughout the country.

The WHO is responding across Syria to prepare laboratories and isolation wards and to inform the public. Health facilities and selected intensive care units are being prepared and communities most at risk have been identified.

A particular focus has been given to the northwest of the country where the WHO is shipping in additional ventilators and personal protective equipment to better cope with the strain on health care, the spokesman said.

The United Nations is very worried by the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in Libya, the spokesman said.

A possible outbreak could overwhelm the already-stretched humanitarian aid capacity, he said. The United Nations, supporting authorities in COVID-19 preparedness, is alarmed that hostilities have continued in and around Tripoli despite a recently announced humanitarian pause.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Leila Zerrougui, chief of the UN mission, said the country needs peace and security more than ever to ensure that health services and humanitarian assistance reach all those who need it.

Zerrougui also reiterated that the United Nations is fully mobilized to support the efforts of the Congolese authorities and to protect the population.

The UN resident coordinator in India, Renata Dessallien, welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's strategy for a nationwide 21-day lockdown to curtail the spread of the virus, Dujarric said.

The UN system in India is fully mobilized and ready to further step up its support to the government to fight COVID-19, said Dessallien.

UN agencies are working with the government on preparedness and response measures, disease surveillance, lab and research protocols, risk communications, training on infection prevention and a control and cluster containment plan, as well as surveillance and tracking of travelers, Dujarric said.

In Sudan, where peace talks are under way, the joint special representative for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, Jeremiah Mamabolo, urged the Sudanese parties to recognize the gravity of the situation and reach a comprehensive peace as soon as possible.

Mamabolo said the COVID-19 pandemic requires an absolutely united front to save lives, and he assured the country of the continued support from the UN-AU mission.

In South Sudan, there as yet haven't been any confirmed cases of COVID-19, the spokesman said. However, the WHO reports that the UN team is working with authorities to mobilize resources to strengthen the national capacity to prepare for COVID-19, including both immediate health priorities and possibly social and economic impacts.

The teams are also helping with surveillance, rapid response capacity and case investigation, he said. A laboratory with a capacity to test COVID-19 has been set up. The United Nations has also supported the construction of a multipurpose infectious disease unit to isolate and treat suspected cases.

The International Organization for Migration is helping the government screen people entering the country, including the installation of a thermal scanner at Juba International Airport. The World Food Programme and the WHO are also supporting logistics.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has launched a global education coalition to support countries in scaling up their distance learning practices and reaching children and youth who are most at risk.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed gave the world organization's full commitment to the coalition, warning that for millions of children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, coronavirus-related school closures could mean the loss of a vital safety net of nutrition, protection and emotional support.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced on Thursday that it will increase support in 145 low- and middle-income countries to help children continue their learning while keeping schools safe. School closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the education of more than 80 percent of students worldwide, it said.

In Burkina Faso, UNICEF has enlisted the singer Smarty, a hip-hop star in the country, to give a boost to COVID-19 prevention efforts, Dujarric said. The result is a video produced and designed to share information that can save lives. Also, UNICEF has trained staff to sensitize the population on measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

The agency is also working with partners to increase access to water and is accelerating the distribution of soap and hand sanitizers, especially in areas with a high concentration of displaced people.

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