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UN Security Council meets for first time on coronavirus pandemic

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday discussed the coronavirus pandemic for the first time, amid criticism over its silence on the crisis so far.

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday discussed the coronavirus pandemic for the first time, amid criticism over its silence on the crisis so far.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres briefed the 15-member council in a closed session via video conference, telling them that “this is the fight of a generation – and the raison d’etre of the United Nations itself.”

“The pandemic … poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security – potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease,” he said.

The UN chief said the engagement of the council would “be critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, a signal of unity and resolve from the council would count for a lot at this anxious time.”

The briefing was requested by nine of the council’s non-permanent members, including the Dominican Republic, which holds the rotating council presidency this month.

Last month’s council president, China, did not call a meeting on the pandemic due to concerns it would be blamed for the outbreak, according to diplomats.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the novel coronavirus, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, the “Chinese virus.”

Germany’s UN ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, decried the “deafening silence” from the council during its meeting, and said “We do not have leadership and power coming together.”

He also stressed that “we should work on a resolution.”

The council’s five veto-wielding members – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – have in recent weeks been unable to agree on a resolution, while the ten elected members have been discussing an alternative draft.

A resolution by the council could back Guterres‘ March 23 call for a global ceasefire, call for access for the delivery of humanitarian aid and push for a coordinated global response to the crisis.

International Crisis Group said the council should “wholeheartedly” endorse Guterres‘ ceasefire appeal, and “risks further diminishing itself if it cannot come to some sort of common position on the threat coronavirus presents to international peace and security soon.”

The council adopted a resolution on Ebola six years ago, when it declared the outbreak in West Africa a threat to international peace and security.

After the meeting, the council issued a statement expressing the members’ “support for all efforts of the secretary general concerning the potential impact of Covid-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries.”

Last week, the 193-member UN General Assembly passed a resolution that called for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the virus, though it was largely symbolic.

“The international community can only benefit from having a strong united voice from the Security Council, from the General Assembly, or member states as a whole, in dealing with this global pandemic,” Guterres‘ spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Thursday.

In his briefing to the Security Council, the UN chief noted that the coronavirus crisis could further erode trust in public institutions if people perceived that authorities mishandled the response or were not transparent.

He said the outbreak could create economic shocks, political tensions and opportunities for terrorists to strike, aggravate humanitarian crises, as well as lead to more violence in war-torn countries.

Guterres also warned the pandemic could increase the risks of a bioterrorist attack if non-state groups gained access to virulent strains.

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