United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing at United Nations Headquarters on February 4,…
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing at United Nations Headquarters on Feb. 4, 2020 in New York City.

NEW YORK - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed Wednesday for $2 billion to help the world’s most vulnerable nations cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity, and so the whole of humanity must fight back,” Guterres told reporters in an online news conference. “Individual country responses are not going to be enough.”

The funds would assist 40 of the most vulnerable developing countries for the next nine months as they deal with the spread of the potentially deadly respiratory virus.

“The world is only as strong as our weakest health system,” Guterres warned. “If we do not act decisively now, I fear the virus will establish a foothold in the most fragile countries, leaving the whole world vulnerable as it continues to circle the planet, paying no mind to borders.

The $2 billion would fund a six-point plan of action. Among its goals are improving public awareness of measures needed to slow the virus’s spread, including social distancing and handwashing. Ramping up testing and getting priority treatment to those at highest risk for severe illness is also covered. 

The plan also allocates substantial resources for protecting frontline health and humanitarian workers.

“Our message to all countries is clear: heed the warning now,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Back this plan politically and financially today, and we can save lives and slow the spread of this pandemic. History will judge us on how we responded to the poorest communities in their darkest hour.”

The U.N.’s humanitarian office, OCHA, will coordinate the plan, which will bring together existing appeals from the WHO and other U.N. partners.

OCHA chief Mark Lowcock said he is releasing $60 million from his internal emergency fund to kickstart efforts. That is in addition to $15 million he disbursed earlier in the crisis.

He urged wealthier countries to step up in order to protect themselves.

“We are seeing huge economic stimulus plans being developed around the world and that’s going to help,” Lowcock said. “But it would be a smart strategy and an intelligent strategy for every developed country to spend just a little bit of their money on dealing with this problem in the vulnerable places as well, because that is part of what you need to do if you want to protect yourself against this pandemic.”

On Thursday, G20 leaders will hold a virtual meeting since they are unable to meet in person. Secretary-General Guterres wrote to them this week to urge them to come up with a strong economic response package of their own to inject trillions of dollars into the international economy to help stop the pandemic and accelerate the financial recovery from it.

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