Remarks at UNSC Briefing: U.S. committed to working together with other countries to combat COVID-19

Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Post-COVID-19 Global Governance (via VTC)

Rodney Hunter
Political Coordinator
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 25, 2021

AS DELIVERED

And thank you to Tunisia for convening today’s discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic and for the leadership you have shown on this critical issue. It has been over a year since the world became aware of this terrible virus, and none of us have been spared its impacts. We express profound sorrow for the deaths, illnesses, and economic devastation that have occurred as a result of this horrible pandemic.

Mr. President, on behalf of the United States, I want to express our deepest condolences to the members of this UN community who have lost loved ones and colleagues to the pandemic. The city we call home, New York, was hit particularly hard by the pandemic and I want to express our deep appreciation for those on the frontlines, the doctors, the healthcare workers, and others who have risked their lives and, in doing so, have saved countless others. Your selfless courage and your selflessness show the best of who we are as human beings, and we should strive to emulate that same spirit here in this Council and in our work each and every day. We thank you so much.

Mr. President, the United States is committed to working together with other countries to combat this deadly virus. As a first sign of our renewed commitment to supporting multilateral efforts to fight the pandemic, on January 20, President Biden signed a letter to the Secretary-General retracting the previous administration’s notification of the United States’ intent to withdraw from the WHO, as well as a letter informing the Director General of the WHO of this decision.

Despite all that the global community has endured during this pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is nothing short of a modern scientific marvel that, in less than one year, numerous safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics have been developed around the world. The United States is working to ensure these vaccines get to those who need it most and we will also work with our partners to facilitate access to those most in need. No one will be safe until the virus is finally and completely defeated.

As the Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told our WHO colleagues last week, the United States, quote, “will commit to building global health security capacity, expanding pandemic preparedness, and supporting efforts to strengthen health systems around the world and to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.” End quote.

The WHO must play a central role in our combined response to this pandemic, and we look forward to working with Gavi, the WHO, the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, and COVAX to help facilitate a rapid global vaccine rollout. As a WHO member state, the United States will work closely with all of you to ensure the WHO is strengthened and reformed appropriately not only to face this current challenge, but also to effectively stand up to other challenges yet to come.

Mr. President, the language in Resolution 2532 remains as relevant and critical now as when it was adopted in July 2020. Conflict-affected countries, weakened by war and violence, remain highly vulnerable to this virus, particularly as COVID-19 becomes more transmissible. Public health officials must have the space and safety needed to continue fighting this virus, to provide affected populations with accurate and factual information, and to deploy vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.

We are all concerned with ensuring that conflict-affected countries are able to access testing, combat disinformation, safely treat their patients, continue to implement public safety guidelines, and access and deliver critical vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics needed for recovery. Many of the countries affected by conflicts also suffer from poverty and lack of humanitarian assistance, including access to sufficient volumes of vaccines to protect their populations.

We were pleased that, well before the Security Council adopted Resolution 2532, several armed groups declared ceasefires to heed the Secretary-General’s call. As early as April 2020, fighters in 12 countries had put down their weapons, including those involved in some of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

But unfortunately, many of those ceasefires have not held, and parties have resumed fighting even as the virus raged on. We strongly urge states and other parties to armed conflict to respect existing ceasefires, or to conclude new ceasefire agreements so that they may focus on managing this pandemic and protecting their citizens.

Faithfully implemented, ceasefires would provide a necessary respite for women, children, and men on the front lines of violence and conflict and thus particularly vulnerable to the virus. We must also ensure that vitally needed humanitarian aid, and those delivering it, are fully protected and able to do so, especially in these vulnerable regions. And humanitarian access must be urgently granted to those, to reach those who need aid.

From a vaccine management perspective, including extreme cold chain requirements for delivery of some vaccines, organizing mass vaccination events amidst violence and conflict will be immensely difficult. Relevant public health authorities must be given the space and safety they need to operate efficiently and quickly, not just to vaccinate against COVID-19, but to maintain critical vaccination campaigns against polio, measles, and other devastating diseases.

Mr. President, we also condemn terrorist organizations that have taken advantage of this difficult situation to escalate violence, while governments try to focus on containing the virus. We will continue our legitimate operations against these terrorist groups that threaten peace everywhere.

The United States continues to lead the world’s scientific, humanitarian, and health assistance response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will engage internationally, including partnering with the WHO and the entire UN system, to combat COVID-19, promote health, and advance global health security to save lives, promote economic recovery, and build better resilience against future biological threats. The United States will also seek to bolster Gavi and the COVAX Facility to support vaccines reaching all parts of the globe, new approaches to health security, and an acceleration of the Global Health Security Agenda.

The United States has already announced over $1.6 billion in additional economic, health, and humanitarian assistance as part of about $20.5 billion in U.S. funding to combat COVID-19.

Today’s humanitarian landscape is unprecedented in its magnitude, acceleration, and complexity. COVID-19’s second order impacts on the most vulnerable have been catastrophic; rising food prices, as we’ve heard today, falling incomes, drops in remittances, interrupted vaccine programs, school closures, and a civilian protection crisis. These impacts continue to be felt acutely by vulnerable and marginalized populations, including here in the United States.

We have all acutely felt the impacts of this horrific pandemic, and we must be united in our efforts to eliminate it. As I’ve said before, we know there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and we must not let this virus stall longstanding efforts towards peace and security. Joining together with the UN and other international partners, the United States will continue to lead the fight against COVID-19 during this critical time, and we will do all we can to ensure a safer and more secure world, both now and in the future.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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