‘Covid-19 sparks old ideological fissures’ – UN Chief

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
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GENEVA – The novel coronavirus outbreak has exposed deep fissures and fragilities in the world that go well beyond pandemics and public health, the UN chief said Friday.

“COVID-19 has x-rayed the world, exposing deep fissures and fragilities,” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of global leaders on international security policy where leaders spoke of the dire need to cooperate.

Guterres said global challenges were getting bigger and more complex, while responses remain fragmented and insufficient.

“Those vulnerabilities go well beyond pandemics and public health.”

Vaccine availability

Underlining that vaccines must become universally available, he said “what is clear for me is the present situation remains chaotic.”

Guterres said Western countries are now supporting COVAX, the international system for effective and equitable distribution of vaccines.

“But 75% of those distributed were only in 10 countries, and more than 100 countries have not yet received any single dose.

“So, the risk is if we vaccinate only the developed countries, and we let the virus spread in the developing world, the virus will mutate, which I think will be more dangerous, but also more able to resist vaccines.”

The UN chief warned: “It might come back to haunt the developed world that has sought to protect their people.”

The G20 is well placed to establish an emergency task force to prepare such a global vaccination plan, he added.

It can bring together the “countries, the companies and the international organizations and the financial institutions with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities.”

Guterres said the biggest enemy of multilateralism was nationalism and populism.

He noted, however, that nationalist and populist leaders “basically failed in the way they led their countries” against the pandemic.

Vaccine mistrust

Speaking at the same panel, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus urged countries to exercise transparency and keep their people informed.

“We should start from understanding the concerns or the questions that citizens raise,” Tedros noted, responding to a question on how to counter vaccination mistrust and conspiracy theories in the world. “I think there are genuine concerns and questions that really stand out from anyone, anywhere. And we have to listen to those.”

He added: “We advise countries, with the central role they have, especially authorities, to be open with their society and tell exactly what’s happening and have regular press conferences.”

“They need to share information and help their citizens, guiding them on what to do.”

He said the WHO has cooperated with tech industries, Facebook, Twitter, Tencent, Microsoft, which have given support “to counter misinformation and disinformation.”

Failure to take measures

Also attending the conference, Bill Gates, who co-heads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “It is a tragedy that the modest steps that would have been required to contain this epidemic weren’t taken in advance.

“And so, you know, given the trillions of dollars of damage, and […] other deficits that are tough to measure, we should make the investment, the small number of billions that we need to insure ourselves that this never happens again.”

Gates said the development of vaccines was “really a triumph.”

“Both vaccine technologies that were initially pioneered for HIV, the mRNA that our foundation and others have been investing in for over a decade, they’ve come through, and a high percentage of them have been successful. But the inequity is still quite dramatic,” he said. – Anadolu Agency