WASHINGTON - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the coronavirus outbreak is “fast becoming a human rights crisis.”
In a statement Thursday, he called on governments to ensure that health care is available and accessible to all people, that economic aid packages help those most affected, and that everyone has the ability to obtain food, water and housing.
“We have seen how the virus does not discriminate, but its impacts do — exposing deep weaknesses in the delivery of public services and structural inequalities that impede access to them. We must make sure they are properly addressed in the response,” Guterres said.
He added: “And in all we do, let’s never forget: The threat is the virus, not people.”
The U.N. chief’s message comes as world health officials warn that while some countries have seen great progress and are starting to relax lockdown measures, the fight against the virus is very much not over.
"Make no mistake: We have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time," said World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Most countries are still in the early stages of their epidemics. And some that were affected early in the pandemic are now starting to see a resurgence in cases."
U.S. health officials also are urging the public to look ahead to the next flu season and get flu shots in order to help mitigate a potential huge strain on health resources if there are large numbers of flu and coronavirus patients at the same time.
With the illnesses sharing similar symptoms, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told reporters, “We're going to have to distinguish between which is flu and which is the coronavirus.”
“I need them to help now to best prepare us by getting the flu vaccine and taking flu out of the picture,” he said.
Many countries remain focused on stopping the current outbreak with stay-at-home measures in place.
Those restrictions are complicating usual routines for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that starts this week.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, banned tens of millions of people who live in big cities from traveling home. Officials in the capital city of Jakarta extended lockdown restrictions until May 22 and asked Muslims to forego attending mosques.
Turkey’s health minister urged similar measures, saying people should put off the tradition of holding fast-breaking meals with friends and family for Ramadan until next year.
Turkey has been instituting weekend curfews and has banned those younger than 20 and older than 65 from leaving their homes.
Muslims in Malaysia’s capital also have been told to pray from home with their mosques closed.
Pakistan is taking a different approach, ignoring pleas from doctors and keeping mosques open, though encouraging people to observe social distancing rules.
The question of whether to allow people to gather for worship is being confronted in many countries, and among many religions.
U.S. officials largely told people to avoid gathering for the Christian Easter holiday earlier this month, while some churches have defied state lockdown orders and held in-person services.
A federal judge in California said Wednesday he would reject a request by three churches seeking a temporary restraining order to set aside the governor’s orders. They argue the government is violating the constitutional First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and assembly.
But the judge said in such a time of emergency, the government has the power to “provide emergency remedies, which may infringe on fundamental constitutional rights.”