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Coronavirus: resist protectionist measures says UN

By Olivier Marbot
Posted on Thursday, 2 April 2020 18:46

APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Senegal
Members of the Senegalese graffiti collective "RBS CREW" paint informational murals advising how to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, on the wall of a high school in the Parcelles Assainies neighborhood of the capital Dakar, Senegal Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)

Cooperation and solidarity are at the heart of the message the UN wanted to send on 31 March when it presented a report detailing the impact of the coronavirus and proposing an outline of a plan to combat it. Nevertheless, it is up to each and every country to decide whether or not they want to embrace the UN’s ideas.

Since the coronavirus crisis began to spill over China’s borders and take on an international dimension, the frontlines have mostly been dominated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its director-general, Ethiopian-born Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus.

The UN, on the other hand, has stayed behind the scenes and a number of people have called out the organisation for its lack of visibility, fearing that it shows the UN’s powerlessness to confront the pandemic.

READ MORE: Exclusive – UN’s Antonio Guterres: “In the face of the pandemic, a moratorium on African debt is necessary”.

Assessing health and socio-economic impacts

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gets it.

The primary purpose of his speech on 31 March was to signal to the entire world that the UN intends to lead the combat. Accordingly, he ordered the drafting of a “report” which covers all the health, safety and socio-economic implications of the crisis.

The document provides a comprehensive assessment of the pandemic and its devastating effects, links them to long-term actions being taken by the UN (the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals), offers ideas about what the post-crisis world could look like and, of course, lists the measures that need to be put in place, more or less repeating what has already been said often.

The report reiterates that, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the financial turmoil will be “as bad as or worse than” what the world experienced in 2009, between 5 million and 25 million jobs could be lost, foreign direct investment flows could drop by 30% to 40% and international tourist arrivals could fall by 20% to 30%.

What’s more, the 4.2 billion people who do not have regular access to basic sanitation facilities could easily fall prey to COVID-19.

The report, just as Guterres’ speech, also emphasises values and ethical concepts that one cannot help but think are hardly shared by the leaders of certain major countries, with the United States arriving at the top of the list.

The UN secretary-general evokes multilateralism, solidarity and the need to protect the most vulnerable. He calls on countries to avoid at all costs “the temptation to resort to protectionist measures” and to shift, once the virus has been combatted, towards a different economic model in order to build societies that are more equal and inclusive and to develop policy that factors in climate change.

READ MORE: WHO’s Tedros: ‘Don’t abandon the poorest to coronavirus’

Debt moratorium

These fine statements are accompanied by concrete recommendations, particularly financial ones.

The UN calls on all countries to implement fiscal and monetary measures aimed at protecting populations and businesses, and envisions coordination among central banks as well as a debt moratorium and waivers on interest payments.

The financial cost of fighting COVID-19 has been announced, and it is huge: “at least 10% of global GDP”, meaning, at the very minimum, $8.5trn.

This amount needs to be used to counter the pandemic’s impact on economies – especially those of developing countries – and fund the combat on the ground.

The report also offers guidance on how to carry out the combat and recommends sharing, coordinating and showing transboundary solidarity… not exactly the dominant trend at the moment.

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