NEW YORK - The U.N. secretary-general warned Thursday that millions of people could die globally from the coronavirus outbreak without a coordinated global response.
“If we let the virus spread like wildfire, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world, it would kill millions of people,” Antonio Guterres warned.
The World Health Organization has recorded more than 200,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 8,000 deaths.
Speaking to reporters via videoconference, as he has restricted U.N. headquarters to all but essential personnel in order to prevent the spread of the disease, Guterres said countries need to shift from undertaking individual health strategies to a coordinated global response.
“The health catastrophe makes clear that we are only as strong as the weakest health system,” he said. “Global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests.”
Appeal for funds
He urged nations to contribute to the World Health Organization’s appeal for funds to assist countries with their virus response. On Thursday, the WHO said that it had received nearly all the $675 million it appealed for to cover the next three months, but that it would be requesting more funds as the virus affects more countries.
Guterres urged a multipronged approach: first tackling the global health emergency and then focusing on the social impact and the economic response and recovery.
“The 2008 financial crisis demonstrated clearly that countries with robust social protection systems suffered the least and recovered most quickly from its impact,” he said.
He noted that a serious global recession was very likely and that workers could be financially devastated, necessitating dramatic preventative action.
“That means wage support, insurance, social protection, preventing bankruptcies and job loss,” Guterres said. “That also means designing fiscal and monetary responses to ensure that the burden does not fall on those who can least afford it.”
He said the global recovery must not come on the backs of the poorest, “and we cannot create a legion of new poor.”
Praise for quick relief
The U.N. chief expressed support for governments that are acting quickly to get tangible relief to their people.
“A number of countries are taking up social protection initiatives such as cash transfers and universal income,” he said. “We need to take it to the next level to ensure support reaches those entirely dependent on the informal economy and countries less able to respond.”
Ultimately, he said, this is an unprecedented situation that requires solidarity, political will and dramatic action.