Coronavirus Pandemic

‘We are at war’ with Covid, says UN chief

Filed on May 24, 2021 | Last updated on May 24, 2021 at 11.25 pm

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decried the "tsunami of suffering" sparked by the coronavirus crisis.

The world is "at war" against Covid-19, the UN chief said on Monday, calling for the application of wartime logic to the inequitable access to the weapons needed to fight the pandemic.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decried the "tsunami of suffering" sparked by the coronavirus crisis.

Addressing the opening of the World Health Organisation's main annual assembly of member states, he pointed out that more than 3.4 million people have died and some 500 million jobs had disappeared since the disease first surfaced in China in late 2019.

"The most vulnerable are suffering most, and I fear this is far from over," Guterres said, stressing the ongoing dangers of "a two-speed global response". To date, only 0.3 per cent of Covid vaccine doses have been administered in the world's poorest countries, which are home to nearly 10 per cent of the global population.

"Sadly, unless we act now, we face a situation in which rich countries vaccinate the majority of their people and open their economies, while the virus continues to cause deep suffering by circling and mutating in the poorest countries," he said.

"Further spikes and surges could claim hundreds of thousands of lives, and slow the global economic recovery," he said, insisting that "Covid-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time."

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic is being perpetuated by a "scandalous inequity" in vaccine distribution. Addressing the assembly, he urged countries to donate vaccine doses to the Covax mechanism to inoculate 10 per cent of populations of all countries by September, and 30 per cent by year-end.

Tedros also called on vaccine manufacturers to give Covax the first right of refusal on new volumes of vaccines, or to commit 50 per cent of their volumes to Covax this year.

Ghebreyesus said at least 115,000 health and care workers have died from Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO chief said, calling for a dramatic scale-up of vaccination in all countries.

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