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News in Brief 24 March 2020

News in Brief 24 March 2020

This is the News in Brief from the United Nations. 

UN Syria envoy appeals for nationwide ceasefire to halt COVID-19  

An immediate ceasefire is needed in Syria to prevent the spread of COVID-19, top United Nations negotiator for Syria, Geir O Pedersen, said on Tuesday. 

In a recording made on his laptop computer to respect social distancing restrictions relating to the virus, Mr. Pedersen said that Syrians are acutely vulnerable to COVID-19.  

 “Healthcare facilities have been destroyed or are degraded. There is a shortage of key medical equipment and health professionals. Internally displaced persons and refugees, as well as detainees and abductees, are living in conditions that are especially dangerous. I have real concerns for the impact on Syrian women, who are already at the forefront of existing health and community support systems. This common threat knows no boundaries. It does not discriminate. It does not care whether you live in areas controlled by the Syrian Government or other areas. It endangers all Syrians.” 

The UN Envoy’s statement follows UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s appeal on Monday for a global ceasefire in a bid to focus on a common enemy: COVID-19.  

The UN Envoy also reiterated his willingness to work with all warring parties to ensure that the truce holds – while also appealing for the large-scale release of detainees and abductees – and immediate access for humanitarian organizations to all detention facilities. 

The development comes as the World Health Organization reported more than 335,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and over 14,500 fatalities.  

Countries must keep cross-border transport of food, medicines going, during pandemic 

Staying with the virus, UN transport experts have warned that uncoordinated border control measures taken to stop disease transmission, risks causing huge delays in delivering vital food, medicine and fuel to many countries. 

Jean Rodriguez, from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that the “patchwork” of measures is making it increasingly difficult to keep road transport supply chains open.  

“What we are seeing is that a huge amount of countries have imposed transport restrictions both for passengers and for goods over the last weeks. And while some of those are perfectly understandable, what we’re saying is they should be limited to the maximum extent possible to allow for the normal flow of goods, especially for goods that are indispensable such as food and medical supplies.” 

To help transport operators and keep supply chains working as smoothly as possible, UNECE has launched an online COVID-19 border crossings observatory. 

It provides up-to-date information on border crossing restrictions worldwide, in conjunction with national customs’ focal points, the International Road Transport Union, the transport sector and the European Commission.  

UN Geneva Director-General urges greater international cooperation in face of coronavirus  

Finally, to Geneva, where the head of the UN there has called for greater international cooperation to combat the coronavirus threat. 

Speaking from the Palais des Nations in the Swiss city, Tatiana Valovaya, insisted that the pandemic had shown us that without global togetherness, “we cannot fight coronavirus or any other global challenges”. 

Mrs. Valovaya also said that COVID-19 was even more urgent than the climate crisis.   

“It shows that what can happen not in five years or 10 years, but tomorrow if we are not working together. I think one of the lessons of all the crises is that we do have multilateral institutions, but sometimes we do not provide them with enough possibility to find the response.  I think that is exactly the lesson of this situation as well.  We have to listen more to our multilateral institutions.  We have to have more multilateral responses because national responses, unfortunately, in this global world are no longer effective.” 

Responding to concerns that self-interest and xenophobia have characterized the response of some countries to the pandemic, the senior UN official insisted that key UN values mattered most, not least respect for human rights, solidarity and fighting nationalism and populism.   

Daniel Johnson, UN News. 


  • UN Syria envoy appeals for nationwide ceasefire to halt COVID-19  

  • Countries must keep cross-border transport of food, medicines going, during pandemic 

  • UN Geneva Director-General urges greater international cooperation in face of coronavirus  

Audio Credit
Daniel Johnson, UN News - Geneva
Photo Credit
© UNICEF/Ali Haj Sulei