Failure to vaccinate everyone will give rise to new variants, says UN chief
United Nations, Jan 18: iving a clarion call to world leaders to make 2022 a "true moment of recovery", UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday said that the COVID-19 pandemic has to be confronted with equity and fairness, cautioning that failure to vaccinate every person will give rise to new variants that will bring daily life and economies to a grinding halt.
Guterres, in his virtual remarks to the opening of the 2022 World Economic Forum (WEF), said: "The last two years have demonstrated a simple but brutal truth - if we leave anyone behind, we leave everyone behind". He gave a clarion call to "stand together to make 2022 a true moment of recovery."
Noting that the global event is taking place in the shadow of an "enormously difficult" period for economies, people and the planet, Guterres urged the international community, especially the global businesses, that "we need all hands on deck" for recovery and economic rebound this coming year. He underlined the need to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, which has raged on across the world for over two years, infecting over 304 million people and killing 5.4 million, with equity and fairness.
Guterres lamented that "shamefully", vaccination rates in high-income countries are seven times higher than in African countries. "If we fail to vaccinate every person, we give rise to new variants that spread across borders and bring daily life and economies to a grinding halt," he said, even as the latest COVID-19 variant Omicron spreads at a lightening speed across the world, exponentially increasing infection rates and threatening to burden the healthcare infrastructure in nations.
He also voiced concern that the world is "nowhere near the targets" set by the World Health Organisation to vaccinate 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of last year, and 70 per cent by the middle of this year. The UN chief said that nations must prepare for the next pandemic through common sense investments in monitoring, early detection and rapid response plans in every country - "and by strengthening the authority of the World Health Organisation."
Guterres emphasised the need for pharmaceutical companies to stand in solidarity with developing countries by sharing licenses, know-how and technology so "we can all find a way out of this pandemic." He said that in situations where compensation may be warranted, "we don't want to have any pharmaceutical company in financial difficulties" or are not able to invest, in those situations developed countries should explore ways to provide the necessary financial support.
Guterres further said that the global financial system needs to be reformed so it works for all countries without being biased because at this critical moment in time, "we are setting in stone a lopsided recovery."
"The global financial system has failed them when they need it most. And global solidarity is missing in action... We need a global financial system that is fit-for-purpose. This means urgent debt restructuring and reforms of the long-term debt architecture," he said, adding that this also means addressing corruption and illicit financial flows, and ensuring that tax systems are fair and designed in a way that truly reduces inequalities. He sounded an alarm on climate inaction, saying if countries fail to match climate rhetoric with climate actions, "we condemn ourselves to a hotter, more volatile earth, with worsening disasters and mass displacement."
Guterres called on nations to support real climate action in developing countries, voicing concern that when emissions should be falling, they continue to rise. "Coal-fired power generation is surging towards a new all-time record. Even if all developed countries kept their very important promise to drastically reduce emissions by 2030, the problem is that with all developing countries achieving their present Nationally Determined Contributions, especially emerging economies, global emissions would still be too high to keep the 1.5 degree goal within reach," he said.
While a number of countries have pledged to make meaningful emission reductions in the 2020s, other countries face enormous structural obstacles, he said. There are nations which have an energy mix that relies on heavy dependence on coal. "That stands in the way of progress for us all. They need assistance," he said.
With a view to help key emerging economies accelerate the transition from coal, Guterres called for the creation of coalitions of countries, public and private financial institutions, investment funds and companies with the technological know-how to provide targeted financial and technical support for every country that needs assistance. "The first priority must be a targeted phase-out of coal. No new coal plants should be built," he said.
With one billion children at an extremely high risk of the impacts of climate change, Guterres said: "turning this ship around will take immense willpower and ingenuity from governments and businesses alike, in every major-emitting nation."
Cautioning that nations cannot afford to replicate the inequalities and injustices that continue condemning tens of millions of people to lives of want, poverty and poor health, Guterres said "We cannot continue building walls between the haves and have-nots." "We need to come together - across countries and across sectors - to support those countries who need the most help," he added.