U.N. Secretary-General Says Coronavirus Pandemic Is 'Greatest Test' Since Second World War

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the novel coronavirus outbreak was the "greatest test" the international community has faced since the organization was formed at the end of World War II.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped the 800,000 mark, the U.N. boss called for "at least 10 percent" of global GDP to be spent on households and healthcare provisions.

He also argued that the world needed a "different economy" once it had recovered from the pandemic, adding that countries were "unnecessarily vulnerable" to shocks and crises.

U.N. Secretary General Antoni Guterres
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the UN Headquarters in New York City, New York, July 12, 2018. EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images

"COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations," Guterres said in a statement. "This human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action from the world's leading economies—and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries."

At a digital press conference launching a new U.N. COVID-19 report, the secretary-general said the pandemic had to lead to a "different economy" worldwide.

He said: "The recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to a different economy. Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face."

The U.N. boss also warned against attempts to return to "the world as it was before," suggesting it had left countries "unnecessarily vulnerable to crises."

Speaking about measures the U.N. believed would have to be rolled out to fight the pandemic, Guterres called for an international bailout package amounting to "at least 10 percent" of global GDP.

"That means designing fiscal and monetary policies able to support the direct provision of resources to support workers and households, the provision of health and unemployment insurance, scaled up social protection, and support to businesses to prevent bankruptcies and massive job losses," he said.

The secretary-general made his remarks a week after he called for a global ceasefire amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Asked what he made of the response to his plea for an international truce, Guterres told reporters: "The parties to conflicts in different parts of the world have said that they were ready to accept it. But there is a big difference between being ready to accept it, and implementing it on the ground."

Newsweek has contacted the U.N. for further comment on its new report.

According to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, more than 877,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide.

The novel coronavirus' death toll stands at 43,537 while 185,000 have totally recovered from the disease.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.