World leaders criticise haphazard handling of pandemic

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: The United Nations building is seen in Manhattan on the first official day of the 75th United Nations General Assembly on September 22, 2020 in New York City. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year's gathering is mostly being held remotely with world leaders making speeches and appearances by video link. Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP


United Nations

World leaders gathering remotely Wednesday criticized a haphazard global response to a microscopic virus that has unleashed economic havoc and taken nearly 1 million lives in its march across the globe.

In the words of Kazakhstan’s president, it was “a critical collapse of global cooperation.” “Our world has been turned upside down,” said Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo.

“We all fell together and looked into the abyss together.” The coronavirus pandemic and its consequences topped the list of concerns on the second day of prerecorded speeches by world leaders at the General Assembly’s first virtual high-level meeting. Countries large and small spoke about struggling to deal with its impact without international coordination.

Pleas for the world to work together to combat the scourge and other global problems have taken the forefront at this week’s U.N. Gathering that itself was altered by the virus.

“A pandemic is by definition a global challenge” and requires a global response, but COVID-19 “has unfortunately revealed how we are tempted to react to immediate threats — nationally, not internationally,” said Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto.

Instead of uniting behind multilateral efforts to tackle the coronavirus, he said, “we witnessed a series of national responses,” which “raise concerns on how we will be able to combat other global challenges.”

Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, warned that the world is “coming close to what some have already called a state of ‘global disfunction’” as a result of the pandemic, and the global system is now “on the verge of dramatic upheavals that may lead to irreversible consequences.” “Now is a make-or-break moment for the humankind,” he warned.

Tokayev called for upgrading national health institutions, taking politics out of the development of a coronavirus vaccine, and revising regulations to improve the World Health Organization and enable all countries to prevent and respond to diseases.

The Kazakh leader proposed establishing an International Agency for Biological Safety based on the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention that would be accountable to the U.N. Security Council. And he suggested creating a network of regional centers for disease control and biosafety under U.N. Auspices.

Many leaders also called for any COVID-19 vaccine that is developed to be shared equally, with Sefik Dzaferovic, chairman of Bosnia’s three-member presidency, saying it must be available “to the entire mankind.” Dzaferovic said the past few years have seen “a very strong crisis of multilateralism” at international organizations including the United Nations, which has become “an object of strong challenging and even dispute.”               But the pandemic has shown “their extraordinary significance in today’s globalized world,” he said, and has also shown that “the largest problems of today can no longer be solved by one, three or five states individually.” As the global death toll from the virus approaches 1 million, many leaders spoke about how dramatically lives have changed in their countries.