By Arul Louis
United Nations, March 19 (IANS) UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for international solidarity and creative solutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic as he presented an alarming picture of its toll to people, society and the world economy.
He warned at a remote news conference: “If we let the virus spread like wildfire – especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world — it would kill millions of people.”
“We need to immediately move away from a situation where each country is undertaking its own health strategies to one that ensures, in full transparency, a coordinated global response, including helping countries that are less prepared to tackle the crisis,” he added.
“Our human family is stressed and the social fabric is being torn. People are suffering, sick and scared.”
Citing the International Labour Organisation, he said that workers around the world could lose $3.4 trillion in incomes this year.
The news conference was held remotely with reporters logging on to the UN’s remote meetings system.
At least one reporter has tested positive for coronavirus and the infected person has been on the floor where the IANS bureau is located, the UN said on Thursday.
The UN has said that it was doing intense cleaning of the press area.
Earlier, the UN had said that one diplomat and one staffer has tested positive for Covid-19.
The UN headquarters has been closed to non-essential staff, and although resident reporters are considered essential workers.
Guterres said that the UN was geared to hold mass meetings remotely when a reporter asked him if the Security Council and the General Assembly should meet remotely.
While it is their decision, he said that he held a remote meeting on Thursday morning with 140 UN resident coordinators.
Guterres hammered the point about international cooperation saying that “poorly coordinated policies risk locking in — or even worsening – already unsustainable inequalities, reversing hard-won development gains and poverty reduction”.
He called on world leaders to “come together and offer an urgent and coordinated response to this global crisis”.
Stressing help for the poorest countries, he said: “The health catastrophe makes clear that we are only as strong as the weakest health system.”
On the economic front, Guterres said that the world should avoid the temptation to adopt protectionism and instead dismantle trade barriers.
A priority should be helping the most vulnerable, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, he added.
“The recovery must not come on the backs of the poorest – and we cannot create a legion of new poor. We need to get resources directly in the hands of people.”
At a practical level, he suggested cutting down fees for international remittances down to zero.
Guterres also cautioned against the pandemic turning into a mental health crisis because of the stress.
“As people’s lives are disrupted, isolated and upturned, we must prevent this pandemic from turning into a crisis of mental health. Young people will be most at risk,” he added.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)