Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

27 March 2020

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**COVID-19 — Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  This morning, in a historic virtual briefing, the Secretary-General briefed Member States on the UN's response to COVID-19.  He outlined how, in this time of crisis, the UN Secretariat is continuing its work, both in field and at Headquarters.  “Staff are motivated and committed to fulfilling their functions — here in New York and across the globe,” he said.  Mr. Guterres said the UN is taking all measures possible to keep staff safe and stressed that the business continuity plan is working, and the UN’s critical work is continuing largely uninterrupted.  In addition, in early February, a Crisis Management Team was activated to mobilize work on critical issues.  He said that country teams are engaging with national authorities in preparing preparedness and response plans, and a Field Support Group is assisting peacekeeping missions to address the health crisis while delivering on their critical mandates.

The Secretary-General also noted that the UN has a well-established mechanism to coordinate supply chain support to countries, and that we stand ready to place the global network of supply chains of the different UN entities at the disposal of Member States for health supplies, medical staff and other needs.  The Secretary‑General also reiterated his call for a global ceasefire and said his Special Envoys and Special Representatives are working hard to ensure that this appeal is followed by necessary measures to allow the ceasefires to be effective.  Mr. Guterres also underscored that there is a need to stand up against the increase in hate crimes targeting individuals and groups perceived to be associated with COVID-19.

In closing remarks, he reiterated that the world needs to show massive solidarity with the pandemic, as it spreads increasingly to the developing world.  This massive solidarity will need to support developing countries not only in dealing with the pandemic itself, but, also, with the socioeconomic impact that it will come afterwards.  Apparently, I dropped out… I think that you all heard the Secretary-General’s brief to the Member States, which was a historical briefing, in which he was also joined by the President of the Security Council, the President of the General Assembly, the President of the Economic and Social Council and his senior department heads.  I think that the message from the Secretary-General is clear that the UN Secretariat is continuing to work both in the field and at Headquarters.  The staff are motivated in fulfilling their functions all over the world, wherever we work.

**COVID-19 — Peace

In response to an update on the response to the Secretary-General’s call for global ceasefires as the world deals with the pandemic, I just want to share a few other examples in addition to the ones we talked about.  In Colombia, there were calls from civil society for a “humanitarian truce” to be put in place once the COVID-19 pandemic started to unravel, even before the appeal.  The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative there has been relaying the message on a global ceasefire both publicly and in private engagements with stakeholders.  In Yemen, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy, welcomed the positive response from the parties to the Secretary-General’s call, calling all of the parties to meet urgently to discuss how to translate their stated commitments to the Yemeni people into practice.

From Syria, the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, welcomed the statement made by the Syrian Democratic Forces expressing their support for the Secretary-General's appeal.  The Secretary-General calls on other parties to the Syrian conflict to support his appeal and Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy, will be in touch and working with the parties to follow through on that.  With developments on the statement from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), they are calling on all parties in Afghanistan also to take all measures to protect civilians and work towards a ceasefire.  And the UN peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mali, South Sudan and Sudan have all put out messages for local ceasefires in those countries.

**COVID-19 — Timor‑Leste

In Timor‑Leste, the UN country team has been working with the Government to prevent a potential COVID-19 outbreak.  There has already been one case confirmed in Timor‑Leste.  The UN team is holding regular briefings with partners and the Government in order to provide coordinated support.  And [the team] is also working with news outlets, civil society organizations, businesses, youth representatives, women leaders and others for a whole-of-society approach to prevention, preparedness, and response to the potential outbreak.

**COVID-19 — School Meals

Our colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP) have launched an interactive map that shows how children’s access to school meals has been disrupted by pandemic.  As of now, about 364 million schoolchildren worldwide are missing out on school meals.  This includes 11 million children, in 48 countries, who are no longer receiving WFP school meals — in many cases, that is the only nutritious meal they receive during the day.  This number is unfortunately set to rise.  More information on the WFP website. 

**COVID-19 — Vital Supplies

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is also helping out, by procuring and shipping vital supplies around the world, including desperately required personal protective equipment to affected countries.  UNICEF is engaged with about 1,000 suppliers and industry leaders to find a solution to current market constraints.

**COVID-19 — Women and Girls

In a statement issued by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), its Executive Director, Natalia Kanem, warned that women, girls and health workers must not be overlooked in the global response.  They have launched an appeal to donors, targeting countries with weak public health and social support systems.  The UNFPA [said] that is important not to forget some of the people who are at great risk — among them, pregnant women who need antenatal care but are unsure if it is safe to go to the clinic, or the women in abusive relationships trapped at home for the foreseeable future and fearing for their safety.

**COVID-19 — Thailand

Our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are monitoring border movements in the Thailand region and looking at borders with Myanmar, Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, as migrant workers return.  There is a risk that these returns could lead to the seeding of new clusters of COVID-19 in those areas of return.  The UN authorities are helping to meet immediate needs on return, including shelter, food and hygiene kits.

**COVID-19 — Journalists

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today voiced its concerns about the safety of journalists when reporting on the global pandemic.  The agency emphasized that journalistic work can save lives in the current emergency situation and that journalists' physical and psychological safety should come first.  UNESCO also warned that freelance journalists are especially vulnerable as they do not always have access to the same resources and support as staff journalists.  Media organizations should ensure that they are trained on sanitary precautions and equipped with protective material.

**COVID-19 — United Nations

And an update on how we are working at our various Headquarters stations around the world.  Here in New York, in the UN Headquarters, the number of swipes coming into the building today stood at 140.  Prior to restrictions being put in place in early March, there were usually about 11,000 swipes.  In Geneva, our colleagues tell us that the number of people coming to the Palais has dropped from around 4,000 people on a regular day to just about 70 yesterday.  And in Vienna, our colleagues there tell us that more than 97 per cent of staff at the Vienna International Centre are now working remotely.

Meanwhile, in Addis Ababa, the UN staff are telecommuting, with about 99 per cent of staff working from home.  These are staff working at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in Chile, has also put measures into place.  In terms of numbers, as of today, 86 UN staff members around the world have reported cases of COVID-19.  Most of these staff members are in Europe, but there are also staff members in Africa, Asia,  Middle East and here in the United States.

**Myanmar

Our colleagues today at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern over the mounting casualties suffered by civilians and growing displacement due to stepped-up clashes in the country’s west area.  At least 21 civilians have reportedly died when a series of clashes between the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Arakan Army hit villages on the border between Rakhine and Chin States earlier this month.

**Human Rights

Human rights colleagues also have updates today on the situation in Hungary, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.  That is up on their website.

**Financial Contribution

And we want to thank our friends in Nassau, in the Bahamas, who, despite this ongoing crisis, have payed their regular budget dues in full, which bring us to 75 Member States who have done so.  All right.  Let's go to questions.  I think this actually worked.

**Questions and Answers

From Edie:  The Secretary‑General said a report on COVID‑19 will be coming out next week.  When next week?

We hope to have this report out on Monday.  We will look at the socioeconomic impacts and what can be done to address it.

On the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty], it has been [likely] postponed.  We have… I think that was touched upon yesterday.

Evelyn asked, has any money been… arrived for the $2 billion appeal?

We will get an update from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] on Monday on this.

Majeed asked how the crisis has impacted the UN's role both humanitarian and political in Iraq and Syria.

Well, I think, on the political front, we are continuing our work in both countries.  I think you heard the appeal launched by Geir Pedersen and the work we're doing there.  We're also continuing our political work in Iraq.  Obviously, our big concern is a possible outbreak of COVID‑19 on refugee and internally displaced population, not only in those countries but all over the world.  And I think we're doing what we can to work with the host countries and humanitarian agencies to try to prevent that.

On… Pamela says:  Is the SG pleased with contributions that are coming in the private sector, UN Foundation, US stimulus package?

You know, we are… our colleagues at the UN Foundation are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on an appeal.  I have to get updates on those numbers.  We're, of course, very thankful for every contribution that we receive.

Iftikhar asked:  The Secretary‑General has spoken strongly for support to developing countries, but not specifically on the problem of debt.

I think the problem of debt is, obviously, part of the overall issues that will have to be addressed in helping countries that have been hit by COVID‑19, developing countries.  They will be part of the solidarity solution they so desperately needed.

Abdelhamid asked if I could confirm a letter has been received from the Libyan Foreign Minister.

No, I have not seen any letter.  [He later said the letter has not been received.]

Pam asked:  What are the time estimates about cleaning of Headquarters and returning to in‑house meetings?

You know, the cleaning of the building continued.  The cleaning is not the issue.  As you know, there are restrictions in place in New York City.  There's no… we are working with the City.  And I think there are no plans to return to in‑house meetings.  Obviously, if the Security Council needs to hold an in‑person meeting or… we will support our Member States, but there's no plan to return to any sort of large number of meetings.  Our telecommuting is continuing as it stands, and I think it's very, very important that all of us who work at the UN in New York, whether journalists or staff, also follow the strong recommendations from the local, from the state, and from the federal Government in our host cities.

Anything else?  Okay.  Can I just confirm… Toby, I don't have anything more than what I said yesterday.  I think we were pretty explicit.  Check with Farhan [Haq] if there's anything more on the NPT.

Pam, thank you.  I'm doing well.  I think, like all of us, we're learning about new ways of working and discovering new technologies.  And we are working with UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] to see if we can improve how this briefing is delivered.  I think we'll be doing this for the foreseeable future.

Take… all of you, take good care of yourselves.  We will see you on Monday.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.