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Countries 'not winning' war on coronavirus, UN chief tells G-20 nations

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Fabrice Coffrini

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The UN’s top administrator told leaders of the world’s richest nations on Thursday that all countries are in a war against coronavirus — “and not winning it.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was one of many speakers at the hourslong virtual summit for the Group of 20, or G-20, nations on the coronavirus threat, which was hosted by Saudi Arabia, the group's president for 2020.

Guterres reiterated a call for global coordination against the disease that includes a universal cease-fire in all military conflicts, containing the spread of the scourge, financial relief for millions of affected workers and a recovery plan that furthers the UN’s antipoverty and environmentally conscious development goals.

“It took the world three months to reach 100,000 confirmed cases of infection,” he said at the summit attended by President Donald Trump. “The next 100,000 happened in just 12 days. The third took four days. The fourth, just one and a half. This is exponential growth and only the tip of the iceberg. This war needs a wartime plan to fight it.”

Guterres spoke as the numbers of COVID-19 infections neared 500,000 worldwide with more than 20,000 deaths, including over 1,000 in the United States.

The leaders of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union took part from their offices and homes, working much like millions of people worldwide who are barred from their workplaces to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The virtual conference produced an outcome statement that said the group would do “whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic,” including working with international organizations such as the World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group and United Nations and committing $5 trillion in funds to offset the damage.

“We are determined to spare no effort, both individually and collectively, to: protect lives; safeguard people’s jobs and incomes; restore confidence, preserve financial stability, revive growth, and recover stronger; minimize disruptions to trade and global supply chains; provide help to all countries in need of assistance; coordinate on public health and financial measures,” read the summit’s outcome statement.

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Guterres took part in the summit one day after he and his team of UN officials including UN humanitarian coordinator Mark Lowcock, UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus participated in a virtual news conference to launch an appeal for $2 billion to fund a humanitarian response plan to fight COVID-19 in poor nations.

“Solidarity is essential,” Guterres said Thursday. “Among the G-20 — and with the developing world, including countries in conflict. … Let us do what it takes, urgently and together.”

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