UN chief criticises lack of global cooperation on Covid-19

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterreshas called from greater international coordination in fighting Covid-19 Credit: Jack Hill/The Times/PA

The United Nations secretary-general has criticised the lack of international coordination in tackling Covid-19, warning the go-it-alone policy of many countries will not defeat the coronavirus.

Antonio Guterres said countries needed to understand that by acting in isolation “they are creating the situation that is getting out of control” — and that global coordination is key.

Although Covid-19 started in China, moved to Europe and spread worldwide, and though officials are now warning about possible second waves, there had been a “total lack of coordination among countries” in response to the pandemic, he said.

Mr Guterres said it was important to use that fact “to make countries understand that bringing them together, putting together their capacities, not only in fighting the pandemic in a coordinated way but in working together to have the treatments, testing mechanisms, the vaccines … accessible to everybody, that this is the way we defeat the pandemic”.

The secretary-general said coordinating political, economic and social responses to the fallout from Covid-19 – including job losses, increasing violence and human rights violations – would also help mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

From the start of the pandemic, Mr Guterres has been trying to mobilise international action to address what he calls the biggest international challenge since World War II.

He called for a global cease-fire to all conflicts on March 23 to tackle Covid-19 but the response has been very limited.

And his calls, and repeated calls by the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, for international “solidarity” to fight Covid-19 have not led to significant changes in nationalist approaches to dealing with the virus.

“I am frustrated, of course, with the lack of international cooperation at the present moment,” Mr Guterres told The Associated Press, “but I hope that the new generations will be able to make things change in the future.”

The secretary-general did not single out any countries, but US President Donald Trump halted all American funding of the WHO, accusing the UN agency leading the fight against the pandemic of failing to respond to the coronavirus because China has “total control” over it.

Mr Trump has pushed for the US economy to reopen as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in many American states. About 2.3 million Americans have been infected by the virus and some 120,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump was widely criticised for cutting US funding to the WHO during the greatest global health crisis in a century Credit: Ross Franklin/AP

The pandemic is also still on the rise in Brazil, where there are more than one million confirmed cases and almost 52,000 fatalities. The country’s response has faced criticism since March when President Jair Bolsonaro started defying social distancing recommendations.

Britain has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, at more than 42,000, with the Government drawing criticism for what many see as its slow, muddled response to the pandemic.

“I think we need to promote humility,” Mr Guterres said, “because it’s only based on humility that we’ll understand our opportunity, and understanding our opportunity we understand the need to have solidarity and unity.”

The secretary-general said he sees “an enormous movement of solidarity” in societies and communities, and more voices saying, for example, that a vaccine must be “a people’s vaccine, not a vaccine in a commercial dispute among countries to make the rich benefit from it and the poor not”.

“So, when I listen to the voices of the youth, when I listen to the voices of civil society,” he said, “I see there the seeds that hopefully will quantify in a much better coordination in the future around response to pandemics like this one.”