Vaccine can't undo damage from COVID-19; it’s time to reset: UN chief Guterres
United Nations, Dec 3: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot undo the damage that will stretch for decades to come, underlining that long-term fragilities, inequalities and injustices have been exposed by the pandemic and it is now “time to reset.”
Guterres, in his remarks to the UN General Assembly special session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that thanks to the hard work and dedication of scientists and researchers from around the world, vaccines may become available within the next weeks and months.
“Nearly a year into the pandemic, we face a human tragedy, and a public health, humanitarian and development emergency. For the first time since 1945, the entire world is confronted by a common threat, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or faith,” the UN chief said.
“But let’s not fool ourselves. A vaccine cannot undo damage that will stretch across years, even decades to come,” Guterres said. He voiced grave concern that extreme poverty is rising, the threat of famine looms and the world faces the biggest global recession in eight decades. “These inter-generational impacts are not due to COVID-19 alone. They are the result of long-term fragilities, inequalities and injustices that have been exposed by the pandemic. It is time to reset,” Guterres said.
World leaders, top UN leadership and vaccine developers will address the two-day high-level special session of the UN General Assembly on COVID-19 and will discuss impact of the pandemic as well as the multifaceted, coordinated response required to address the crisis.
According to the latest speakers list, there are 141 speakers inscribed, including 53 Heads of State, 39 Heads of Government, 4 Deputy Prime Ministers and 38 Ministers. Through the Special Session of the General Assembly in Response to the Coronavirus Disease, stockholders will engage in dialogue on the impacts of the pandemic on people, societies and economies and discuss the multifaceted, coordinated response required to address this crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 1.3 million lives and infected over 54 million people globally, “is not only the greatest global health crisis since the creation of the United Nations 75 years ago. It is also a humanitarian, socio-economic, security and human rights crisis,” the UN has said.
Guterres noted that from the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided factual information and scientific guidance that should have been the basis for a coordinated global response. “Unfortunately, these recommendations were not followed. Some countries continue to reject facts and ignore guidance. And when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction,” he said. Guterres emphasised that looking ahead, the recovery from COVID-19 must address the pre-existing conditions it has exposed and exploited, from gaps in basic services to an overheated planet. He asserted that stronger health systems and Universal Health Coverage must be a priority.
The WHO has declared six Public Health Emergencies of International Concern since 2007 and COVID-19 will not be the last. He said that "we cannot bequeath a broken planet and huge debts to future generations. The money we spend on recovery must go into building a greener, fairer future.” Guterres gave a clarion call that 2021 must be a leap year – “the year of a quantum leap towards net zero emissions of greenhouse gasses” and every country should enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions well in advance of COP26 next November, and in line with the long-term goal of global carbon neutrality by 2050. "It is time to end the suicidal war with our planet.
2021 must be a year to address our planetary emergency. We need a post-2020 biodiversity framework to halt the extinction crisis,” he said. Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla will also address the session through a pre-recorded video on December 4.
BioNTech co-founders Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, Sarah Gilbert who is leading the vaccine team at Oxford University and Chief Executive Officer of GAVI - the Vaccine Alliance Seth Berkley will address the special session virtually. AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford are working on a COVID-19 vaccine while global drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech announced their vaccine candidate is 95 per cent effective.
World leaders expected to address the session are Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, French President Emmanuel Macron, Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. US President Donald Trump is not listed as a speaker for the session and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar will address the high-level session.