United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged members of the Security Council to come together to fight the global coronavirus outbreak, marking the first time the divided 15-nation body discussed the pandemic.
“The engagement of the Security Council will be critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Guterres told council members in a closed-door video conference on Thursday.
“A signal of unity and resolve from the Council would count for a lot at this anxious time,” he said in a text released by his office.
The Security Council has been unable to come up with a united response to the pandemic in recent weeks primarily due to Chinese-U.S. tensions. President Donald Trump initially insisted on calling the disease the “Chinese virus” because it first broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Guterres said that the council’s ability to work together to fight previous major health crises, such as Ebola and HIV, was crucial in marshaling an effective international response.
While most of the council’s members want to act in unity, two competing texts in recent weeks have failed to move forward. Diplomats pointed out a more positive tone in recent discussions.
The 193-member UN General Assembly last week adopted the first resolution on Coronavirus, calling for international cooperation and commitment to help weaker groups, though its texts aren’t binding.
The Security Council has the authority to step in when it considers a crisis a threat to international peace and security, as it did with Ebola in 2014. The Chinese, who presided over the council in March, were initially reticent to agree to a meeting, arguing that the issue is a public health concern.
But it’s become increasingly clear that the outbreak, which has thus far infected more than 1.5 million people worldwide, will wreak havoc far beyond the immediate health-care toll.
In his speech, Guterres outlined nine areas of concern to international security tied to the virus, from eroding public trust in institutions to the economic fallout to threats of postponed elections to the risk that some conflicts will be exacerbated.
On a more optimistic note, Guterres said his call for a global cease-fire has been heeded in some corners. Saudi Arabia recently announced a unilateral cease-fire in Yemen.
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