COVID-19: Greatest Test for the World Since 1945, says UN Chief

UN SG Antonio Guterres said the coronavirus pandemic is the “greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” as he called on rich nations to help prevent a devastating outbreak in the global South.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The world is facing the greatest crisis with the Covid-19 pandemic since 1945, when the United Nations was founded, said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday.

He said developed nations must help developing countries or the world could “face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the global South with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed.”

UN Headquarters on the East River, New York.

“Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world,” he said.   

Guterres was speaking from UN headquarters in New York at the launch of a new UN report on the pandemic.  The report includes projections from the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), that says 25 million jobs will be lost worldwide, representing a loss of  $860 billion to $3.4 trillion in income for workers.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) projected a 30 to 40 percent reduction in global foreign direct investment and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) sees a 20–30 percent fall in international airline arrivals. 

“This is a disease that threatens everybody in the world, and it has an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past,” Guterres said. “Enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, enhanced conflict makes us believe indeed that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War.” 

It requires, he said, that nations “forget political games, and understand that it is humankind that is at stake.”

Decries Lack of Coordination

Guterres chastised governments for its lack of coordination to combat Covid-19. “We still do not have a coordinated action of all countries to suppress the virus under the guidance of the World Health Organization,” he said.

“Guidelines from the World Health Organization were not respected in many countries of the world and there was a tendency for each one to go its own way. We absolutely need an articulated action in which all countries join the same efforts in order to commonly suppress the transmission.

If it is true that we have already witnessed the mobilization of 5 trillion U.S. dollars, it is far from what is needed, especially because most of what was mobilized was by the developed world to support their own economies.

We are far from having a global package to help the developing world to create the conditions both to suppress the disease and to address the dramatic consequences in their populations. … Massive help is still required to the developing world. We are not yet there but I hope we will be moving in that direction. …

If the developing world does not have the resources … then we have the risk, and Africa is for me the main concern, we will have the risk of the virus spreading like wildfire in the global South with the tragic consequences … millions of people will die. But [also] the possibility of it coming back, and all the efforts of the global North are again put into question.  This is a moment for solidarity, not only because of generosity, but because of the enlightened self-interest of everybody.”

Guterres said he had been in touch with many global leaders and said there was a “growing conscious that we are in this together and we need to come out of this together.” But he said the problem was how to create “the practical ways to do so.”

History Will Judge

The secretary-general called the pandemic “a defining moment for modern society,” in which “history will judge the efficacy of the response not by the actions of any single set of government actors taken in isolation, but by the degree to which the response is coordinated globally across all sectors for the benefit of our human family.” 

Guterres said the world must not go back to the status-quo ante after the crisis is over. “With the right actions, the COVID-19 pandemic can mark the beginning of a new type of global and societal cooperation,” he said. “When we get past this crisis, which we will, we will face a choice: we can go back to the world as it was before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises.” 

Among the issues that must change, Guterres said, is “designing fiscal and monetary policies able to support direct provision of resources to workers and households, provision of health and unemployment insurance, scaled up social protection and support to businesses to prevent bankruptcies and massive job losses. What is needed is a massive, multilateral response amounting to at least 10 percent of global GDP.”   

Resources must be “massively increased” to the developing world, he said.  International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions must “rapidly inject resources into the countries that need them.”  

“Debt alleviation must be a priority,” including waivers of interest payment for the entire year for developing countries.  

“What the world needs now is solidarity,” he said. “With solidarity we can defeat the virus and build a better world.”

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former United Nations correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, as well as an investigative reporter for Sunday Times of London.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .



7 comments for “COVID-19: Greatest Test for the World Since 1945, says UN Chief

  1. rosemerry
    April 1, 2020 at 17:06

    What he is really saying its that capitalism has failed and we need change. With the USA being the main cause of the present financial and military situation and the least likely to change or to cooperate since it ignores international law already and has only just realized that it is the main present focus of this INTERNATIONAL virus plague, the chances of a happy future for all of us who remain are slim.

  2. April 1, 2020 at 14:19

    There is evidence now that any “return to normal” is very unlikely. That should be thought-provoking at all levels of all societies.

  3. Randal Marlin
    April 1, 2020 at 11:37

    How about this for a dream-on thought:
    The U.S. with assistance from allies NGOs, and UN agencies converts suitable military bases into isolation camps/hospitals/medical/centers as needed to help those in the developing world. They might also be distribution centers for food, drinking water, protective equipment, testing materials, etc.

  4. Sam F
    April 1, 2020 at 10:22

    Good statements by Gutteres, for “coordinated action” against epidemics might indeed lead to “global and societal cooperation” with direct support of households, businesses, health, and unemployment insurance.

    The tyrants over democracy against whom Aristotle warned cannot stop the “political games” commanding the loyalty of their power base, pretending to be defenders against non-existent enemies. But they can claim credit for attacking the real enemy after it is too late, and use their controlled mass media to lie about that as always.

    The US and Italy had the same rate of virus case increases (doubling in four days) in their 25th day since 100 infections. If the US does no better than Italy now, it may have about 500,000 cases and 50,000 deaths in two weeks, thirty times the per capita rate of China. Not enough for politicians to steal more Social Security money than their business losses, so they still have economic incentives in lieu of morality.

    When infections level off, quarantines will be released to restart the economy as in China, and infections will resume, establishing a quarantine/work cycle for two years until a vaccine is available, with a heavy cost in virus deaths. Perhaps slow thinkers will move toward a constant work/quarantine process for essential goods as in medical services.

  5. John R.
    April 1, 2020 at 09:29

    Yes, covid-19 is a big test for the world. Perhaps after we get it under control (if that’s possible) we might face the very biggest threat to every living being on earth – GLOBAL WARMING ! We are killing ourselves and our planet right now and that isn’t going away by ignoring it.

  6. Lily
    April 1, 2020 at 04:56

    China sends masks to Italy. The Chinese writing on the packets says:

    “We are all Drops in one Ocean – We are all Leaves of one Tree – We are all Flowers in one Garden” .

  7. geeyp
    April 1, 2020 at 01:25

    One can dream and I dearly hope that what Secretary General Guterres states here happens.

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