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Coronavirus is an opportunity to rebuild a better world, UN chief says

The coronavirus has 'brought us to our knees', the UN chief said [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 May, 2020

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The Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to create global unity and reassess priorities, Antonio Guterres said, but it is unclear whether leaders will take it up.

The coronavirus pandemic should serve as a "wake-up call" to the world which must be more united in responding to the crisis, UN chief Antonio Guterres said Monday.

The secretary-general said Covid-19 was the "greatest challenge of our age" and had demonstrated the world's fragility, as nations went their own way in tackling the pandemic.

Guterres said the crisis was an opportunity to rebuild a better world - but he questioned whether countries were up to it.

Despite great scientific and technological advances in recent decades, a virus had "brought us to our knees", the United Nations chief said at the start of a virtual meeting of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) World Health Assembly.

He said the pandemic had exposed the frailties not just in health systems but in international institutions, tackling the climate crisis, cyber-security and nuclear disarmament. 

"Covid-19 must be a wake-up call. It is time for an end to the hubris," Guterres said, slamming countries for their disjointed approach.

"We have seen some solidarity, but very little unity in our response to Covid-19.

"Different countries have followed different, sometimes contradictory strategies and we are all paying a heavy price.

"Many countries have ignored the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.

"As a result, the virus has spread across the world." 

He said Covid-19 was now spreading in the southern hemisphere, where its impact might be "even more devastating".

'Rebuild differently and better'

Guterres reiterated his call for a WHO-led international response, expanded mental health services and policies to address the social and economic problems caused by the crisis.

[Click to enlarge]

"Unless we control the spread of the virus, the economy will never recover," the secretary-general said.

The former Portuguese prime minister and former head of the UN refugee agency said the recovery from the crisis must lead to more equal and sustainable economies.

It is "an opportunity to rebuild differently and better", he said, referring to the climate crisis and flawed social protection systems.

"Instead of going back to systems that were unsustainable, we need to make a leap into a future of clean energy, inclusivity and equality, and stronger safety nets, including universal health coverage."

But he asked: "We can do it, but will we?

"Either we get through this pandemic together, or we fail."

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