The Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen for five years declared a two-week cease-fire starting Thursday in response to United Nations calls for peace as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.
After making his appeal last month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported last week that parties to conflicts in multiple countries have expressed their acceptance, including those in Cameroon, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Ukraine.
U.N. efforts are focused not just for the sake of quieting those conflicts, but to give humanitarian groups and governments a better chance of delivering badly needed aid and to try to prevent the spread of the virus among some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
The International Rescue Committee issued a new report Thursday calling attention to those issues. It specifically noted essential medical equipment that has been scarce in hard-hit places like the United States and parts of Europe, while “many conflict-affected and fragile countries have virtually none to begin with.”
The report says only half of Yemen’s hospitals are fully functional, while two-thirds of the country’s population does not have access to health care. It also pointed to a shortage of intensive care unit beds and ventilators in South Sudan, northern Syria and Venezuela.
Worldwide there are about 1.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease with 89,000 deaths.
Many countries have instituted lockdowns to prevent people from going to school or work, or to conduct nonessential shopping, in hopes of stopping new transmissions.
Japan enacted a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas earlier this week, and on Thursday its health ministry reported a record 500 new confirmed cases.
Some leaders have expressed confidence that their country has seen the worst of the outbreak already and can look toward restarting some aspects of normal life.
The Czech Republic on Thursday is allowing the reopening of hobby supply and building supply stores. The country has reported 5,000 total infections and Health Minister Adam Vojtech said Wednesday data showed it had “so far prevented the worst.”
The United States has by far the most cases in the world with about 430,000. The biggest cluster is in the state of New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday praised stay-at-home efforts as working while stressing to people, “We can’t stop now.”
More than 6,000 people have died in New York from the coronavirus. The state reported a record-high 779 deaths on Wednesday.
However, Cuomo this week has pointed to reductions in hospital admissions as a sign the situation in his state could soon be brighter.