U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed inequalities and injustices in society. Photo by Eskinder Debebe/U,N. Photo
Dec. 4 (UPI) -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the social and economic impact of the pandemic "is enormous and growing" and that a vaccine will not undo the decades of damage the coronavirus has caused.
In his remarks to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday during a special session on COVID-19, the international governmental agency's chief told world leaders that as the one-year anniversary of the pandemic approaches the world faces human tragedy and a public health, humanitarian and development emergency.
He defended the U.N.'s health agency, the World Health Organization, saying it disseminated factual information and guidance on how to confront the virus, which should have been the foundation for a global response but some countries chose not to heed its advice.
"Many of these recommendations were not followed. And in some situations, there was a rejection of facts and an ignoring of the guidance. And when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction," he said.
The virus has hit the world's poorest and most vulnerable hardest and though hopes have been buoyed by news that a vaccine is on the horizon, it will not undo the damage caused by the coronavirus exposing deep-seated inequalities and injustices, he said.
"Extreme poverty is rising; the threat of famine looms. We face the biggest global recession in eight decades ... It's time to reset," he said.
Guterres also called on world leaders to donate to the WHO's ACT Accelerator program, which was launched in the spring to ramp up development, production and equitable distribution of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.
The U.N. chief has repeatedly called on nations to give to this program that aims to help the world's poorest nations fight the virus.
But on Thursday, he said the program still lacks $28 billion, including $4.3 billion urgently needed to fund the program over the next two months.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, on Thursday before the world leaders also proposed an international treaty to enable the world to better react to future pandemics, stating they must learn from the lessons being taught by the current global emergency.
"The number of epidemics has multiplied in recent decades. We knew that the world was not immune to a major pandemic. Yet, we were caught off guard," he said via a recorded video. "This is a form of failure, and we will have to learn the lessons and draw the conclusions from it."
While there have been failures, the international community's development of a vaccine in less than a year is an achievement that generally requires a decade, he said, stating it is an example of what global cooperation, solidarity and mobilization is capable of.
The treaty would be within the framework of the WHO to address risk monitoring, financing for coordinated research and improving access to healthcare while strengthening healthcare systems and securing supply chains.
"The objective is to do better," he said. "To do better in all the areas where we recognize it is in our interest to strengthen cooperation."
The leaders spoke during the first day of the two-day special session at the United Nations that were held as the pandemic grows.
According to a map of the virus by Johns Hopkins University, total cases early Friday reached 65.2 million nearly a year after the virus was first diagnosed in China late last December.
The death toll also surpassed the grim 1.5-million mark Thursday.