During his address to the historic and unprecedented 75th Session of the largely empty General Assembly Hall in New York, UN Secretary-General António Guterres made an impassioned appeal for global solidarity to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
As at Tuesday, there were more than 31 million cases of the coronavirus disease worldwide, with over 962,000 deaths. Right here at home in Guyana, there has been an astronomical increase in COVID-19 cases, with the number of deaths also going up.
Due to COVID-19, most world leaders are not attending, in person at UN Headquarters, the annual gathering known as the General Debate. Instead, many, including Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali, have chosen to do so virtually.
Guterres said that “in a world turned upside down, this General Assembly Hall is among the strangest sights of all”, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the UN’s annual meeting beyond recognition; but it has made it more important than ever.
Guterres labelled the pandemic as “not only a wake-up call”, but “a dress rehearsal” for challenges to come. This, of course, echoes what many experts around the world have been saying over the past months; that is, the resulting social and economic impacts of COVID-19 will take a severe toll on most countries around the world, especially those that are already grappling with many developmental challenges.
Urging the UN’s 193 Member States to move forward in humility and unity in the face of the disease, the Secretary-General underscored the need for solidarity at this moment, particularly as countries least capable of addressing COVID-19 have received far too little assistance.
In the Secretary-General’s words, “Populism and nationalism have failed. Those approaches to contain the virus have often made things manifestly worse.”
He said the pandemic has exposed fragilities and inequalities across the globe. It has generated “an epochal health crisis”; the biggest economic and job losses since the Great Depression; and dangerous new threats to human rights, among other challenges.
For the Secretary-General, recovering from COVID-19 must lead to a better future for all, anchored by inclusive, sustainable and resilient societies. He emphasised the need for what he labelled a New Social Contract at the national level, and a New Global Deal applicable internationally.
Guterres explained that the New Social Contract has several components, such as ending exclusion, discrimination and racism, and establishing Universal Health Coverage and even a possible Universal Basic Income. It also entails having fairer tax systems, providing education for all, harnessing digital technology, and ensuring human rights as well as opportunities for women and girls.
Like the Secretary-General, President Ali, in his maiden presentation on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the challenges facing developing countries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what could be done to support these countries in their efforts to recover and rebuild.
As stated by President Ali, the pandemic has undermined many of the developmental gains made over the past decades, and brought to the fore development bottlenecks faced by developing countries. He explained that those issues range from insufficient financing, inadequate market access for goods and services, the expanding digital divide, restrictions in accessing needed pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, and reductions in revenue from tourism and exports, among other sources.
He suggested that UN member nations should seek to strengthen solidarity to address the pandemic, commit to take forward the 2030 Agenda, and intensify global partnerships.
President Ali also offered the Group’s commitment to taking the actions needed for a coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response to the development challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including initiatives on financing for development in the era of COVID-19 and beyond, aimed at producing a menu of policy options necessary to resolve the crisis and to ensure resilience.
In this regard, we support President Ali’s call for more resources and actions to be mobilised in a timely manner to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda.