Note to Correspondents: Letter from the Secretary-General to G-20 Members (Excerpts)

March 24, 2020


I welcome the decision by the leaders of the Group of Twenty (G-20) to convene an emergency virtual summit to respond to the catastrophic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the global health crisis spreads human suffering and upends the global economy, the world looks forward to concerted and decisive action by world leaders.

This is above all a human crisis, with multifaceted threats. Even in the wealthiest countries, we see health systems buckling under pressure. Around the world, the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic are already tangible — schools
are closing, already pervasive inequalities are deepening, many countries are unable to respond to the enormous needs of the elderly; and women, who represent 70 per cent of health-care workers, are disproportionately affected.

A recession is in prospect. The question is: how long it will last and how much damage will it do to the productive capacities of our economies and the livelihoods of our citizens. COVID-19 will require a response like none before — a “war-time” plan
in times of human crisis. The G-20 leadership has an extraordinary opportunity to step forward with a strong response package to address the various threats of COVID-19. This would demonstrate solidarity with the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable.

Allow me to share with you 3 critical areas for discussion and decision-making at the upcoming G-20 meeting:

First - coordination and cooperation to suppress the virus. Our first priority is to tackle the pandemic everywhere, to be safe anywhere. It must be clear, that our strategy is a coordinated suppression of the virus.

I call on G-20 leaders to establish an articulated response mechanism guided by the World Health Organization, to achieve suppression together. Such a mechanism would strengthen the global response and provide countries with stronger capabilities to stop transmission: test, trace, quarantine, treat the sick and coordinate measures to restrict movement and contact. It would also help enhance scientific collaboration in the search for a vaccine and therapeutic treatment.

We also see the need for a continued global effort to better determine the emerging needs for medical and protective equipment, increase and help procure critical supplies, and establish additional transportation and supply chains to fight the virus across all borders. The United Nations stands ready to support facilitating such effort, building on the experience to combat Ebola.

Our global supply network is fully at your disposal. Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.

To this end we must create the conditions and mobilize the resources necessary to ensure that developing countries have equal opportunities to respond to this crisis in their communities and economies. Anything short of this commitment would lead to a pandemic of apocalyptic proportions affecting us all.

I urge G-20 leaders to commit to ban tariffs, quotas or non-tariff measures, and remove restrictions on cross border trade that affect the deployment of medical equipment, medicines and other essential goods to fight the epidemic. And I am encouraging the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support. This is the time for solidarity not exclusion.