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U.N. chief: COVID-19 threatens world peace, security

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 74th General Debate at the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Sept. 24, 2019. Photo by Monika Graff/UPI
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 74th General Debate at the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Sept. 24, 2019. Photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

April 10 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned members of the Security Council that the coronavirus pandemic poses a threat to not only public health but to international peace and security.

Guterres made the comment Thursday during the first meeting the U.N. Security Council has held on the COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened more than 1.6 million people and caused nearly 100,000 deaths worldwide by Friday morning, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.

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He said during the video conference that the pandemic is "the fight of a generation," "the raison d'ĂȘtre of the United Nations itself" and the gravest test the world has faced since the international organization's formation in 1945.

The head of the U.N. body said the virus threatens the maintenance of international peace and security and could lead to "an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease."

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It hinders conflict resolutions, offers terrorist organizations the opportunity to strike while governments are preoccupied, escalates major issues in fragile societies, erodes the trust in public institutions and exacerbates human rights challenges.

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"The engagement of the Security Council will be critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "Indeed, a signal of unity and resolve from the council would count for a lot at this anxious time."

Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated Guterres' call for unity, stating the pandemic "requires global action, international solidarity and unity of purpose."

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Craft then added without mentioning China that the United States calls for "complete transparency and the timely sharing of public health data and information."

The United States has repeatedly accused China of not being forthright during the pandemic and conducting a campaign of disinformation.

Zhang Jun, China's ambassador to the United Nations, called the pandemic "a global challenge" that is testing national governments and their ability to "lead and deliver."

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China, the former epicenter of the outbreak and ground zero of COVID-19, has seen a drastic decline in cases since a peak in early February, which is proof, Zhang said, that it can be defeated but to overcome this challenge, "solidarity, cooperation, mutual support and assistance is what we need, while beggar-thy-neighbor or scapegoating will lead us nowhere."

Following the meeting, the Security Council published its first statement on the pandemic, expressing "support for all efforts of the secretary-general concerning the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries and recalled the need for unity and solidarity with all those affected."

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The coronavirus has infected at least 185 countries and territories since it emerged in Wuhan, China, in early December, with the United States accounting for the highest number with nearly half a million infections.

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