United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has decried countries – without naming names – that have rejected the facts about the coronavirus pandemic and ignored guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
Guterres addressed a special session of the 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA) on the coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and spread globally.
More than 64.43mn people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 1,496,238 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories December 2019.
“From the start, the WHO provided factual information and scientific guidance that should have been the basis for a co-ordinated global response,” Guterres said. “Unfortunately, many of these recommendations were not followed.”
“And in some situations, there was a rejection of facts and an ignoring of the guidance,” he said. “And when countries go in their own direction, the virus goes in every direction.”
US President Donald Trump cut funding to the WHO earlier this year, and announced plans to quit the Geneva-based body over accusations that it was a puppet of China, which the WHO denied.
The US withdrawal would have taken effect in July next year, but US President-elect Joe Biden said that he will rescind the move.
“In a global crisis, we must meet the expectations of those we serve with unity, solidarity and co-ordinated multilateral global action,” said Guterres, who is pushing for a Covid-19 vaccine to be made available to all and for rich countries to help developing countries combat and recover from the pandemic.
Long-simmering tensions between the United States and China hit boiling point over the pandemic at the UN, where months of bickering between the superpowers has spotlighted Beijing’s bid for greater multilateral influence in a challenge to Washington’s traditional global influence.
“This is not a time to point fingers. We have convened here to forge a path forward and to end the suffering of the people we serve,” UNGA President Volkan Bozkir said. “The United Nations must lead on this.”
The EU meanwhile announced yesterday plans to step up the fight against disinformation in Europe at a time when anti-vaccine content is spreading, fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The European Commission also plans to regulate political advertising and to better protect journalists as part of its Democracy Action Plan.
“Disinformation is not a trivial thing ... we are speaking about really dangerous attacks,” EU Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova told AFP.
The plan by the EU executive intends to strengthen its existing code of conduct against disinformation, which was launched in 2018.
It was signed by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and in June 2020 by TikTok, as well as players in the advertising sector.
But the EU believes self-regulation is no longer adequate and the new measures will coincide with the much-anticipated Digital Services Act, to be proposed by the commission on December 15.
The commission, which has already denounced campaigns allegedly launched by Russia and China linked to the pandemic, is seeking the power to impose financial penalties on foreign agents.
It also wants to have a role in helping member states coordinate their response to disinformation attacks by foreign actors.
The EU executive also wants more transparency from the platforms on the sources of disinformation, their algorithms and more access to data for researchers.
Campaign group Avaaz said the plan could be ground-breaking if the platforms are held accountable with clear objectives and oversight.
“Or it could remain an ineffective declaration of intent,” warned Avaaz campaign manager Luca Nicotra, if the platforms continue to report based on indicators they choose themselves.
The commission also said it would propose new legislation to regulate political advertising next year.
“We want the political advertising to be as transparent as possible, so that I, as a voter, know who is sending me this message, who pays for it, what’s the purpose,” Jourova said.
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