The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a “window” into how a bio-terrorist attack might unfold across the world, UN chief Antonio Guterres said, issuing a strong warning that non-state groups could gain access to “virulent strains” that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe.
The Secretary-General listed pressing risks to the world due to the pandemic as he addressed the powerful UN Security Council, which for the first time discussed the coronavirus crisis in a closed video-conference session on Thursday under the Presidency of the Dominican Republic.
Antonio Guterres described the battle against COVID-19 as the “fight of a generation — and the raison d’etre of the United Nations itself.”
“While the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, its implications are much more far-reaching. The pandemic also poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security — potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease,” Antonio Guterres said in his briefing to the UNSC.
“The weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bio-terrorist attack might unfold – and may increase its risks. Non-state groups could gain access to virulent strains that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe,” he said.
Voicing strong concern that the threat of terrorism remains alive, Antonio Guterres said, “terrorist groups may see a window of opportunity to strike while the attention of most governments is turned towards the pandemic.”
Further, in some conflict settings, the uncertainty created by the pandemic may create incentives for some actors to promote further division and turmoil.
“This could lead to an escalation of violence and possibly devastating miscalculations, which could further entrench ongoing wars and complicate efforts to fight the pandemic,” Antonio Guterres said.
According to estimates from Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre, there are more than 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases across the world and over 95,000 people have died so far of the disease.
The UN chief stressed that the crisis has hindered international, regional and national conflict resolution efforts, exactly when they are needed most.
Another significant risk posed by the pandemic is that it is triggering or exacerbating various human rights challenges and refugees and internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable.
“We are seeing stigma, hate speech, and white supremacists and other extremists seeking to exploit the situation. We are witnessing discrimination in accessing health services… And there are growing manifestations of authoritarianism, including limits on the media, civic space and freedom of expression” he said.
The coronavirus crisis has unleashed ruinous social and economic impacts, as governments around the world struggle to find the most effective responses to rising unemployment and the economic downturn.
Last month, Antonio Guterres had called for an immediate global ceasefire, urging all warring parties to silence the guns in order to help create conditions for the delivery of aid, open up space for diplomacy and bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to the pandemic.
He said he is encouraged by the support his call for a global ceasefire has received from Heads of State and Government to regional partners, civil society activists, and religious leaders.
“From South America to Africa and from the Middle East to Asia, we have seen conflict parties take some initial steps to end violence and fight the pandemic,” he said.
Two weeks ago, the UN chief also launched the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, focusing on needs in countries already facing a humanitarian crisis. The Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated USD 75 million and so far the Plan had received USD 396.5 million.