As the world crossed a "heart-wrenching milestone" of two million deaths from COVID-19, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres lamented that the deadly impact of the pandemic has worsened due to the absence of a global coordinated effort and said that "vaccinationalism" by governments is "self-defeating" that will delay a global recovery.
Since its discovery at the end of December 2019, COVID-19 has now spread to all corners of the world, with cases in 191 countries and regions. Deaths due to the disease reached the grim milestone of one million only in September. In addition, the socio-economic impact of the pandemic has been massive, with countless jobs and livelihoods lost globally, and millions pushed into poverty and hunger.
"Our world has reached a heart-wrenching milestone: the COVID-19 pandemic has now claimed two million lives. Behind this staggering number are names and faces: the smile now only a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one," Guterres said on Friday.
According to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker, the deadly virus has so far claimed 2,008,237 lives and infected 93,816,953 people globally. Guterres said the deadly impact of the pandemic has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort and called for the world to act with far greater solidarity in the memory of those two million souls".
The UN chief said as safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, we are seeing a vaccine vacuum and noted that the world's leading economies have a special responsibility. Science is succeeding but solidarity is failing. Some countries are pursuing side deals, even procuring beyond need. Governments have a responsibility to protect their populations, but 'vaccinationalism' is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery, he said.
Warning that COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time, Guterres voiced concern that vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, while the world's poorest have none at all. "Our world can only get ahead of this virus one way together. Global solidarity will save lives, protect people and help defeat this vicious virus, he said.
Guterres said the UN is supporting countries to mobilise the largest global immunisation effort in history and the world organisation is committed to making sure that vaccines are seen as global public goods people's vaccines. That requires full funding for the access to COVID-19 tools accelerator and its COVAX facility -- which is dedicated to making vaccines available and affordable to all, he said.
The UN chief stressed that manufacturers need to step up their commitment to work with the COVAX facility and countries around the world to ensure enough supply and fair distribution. We need countries to commit now to sharing excess doses of vaccines. This would help vaccinate all health care workers around the world on an urgent basis and protect health systems from collapse, he said.
Emphasising that those on the frontline, including humanitarian workers and high-risk populations, must be prioritised for the vaccine, Guterres said in order to gain public trust, "we must boost vaccine confidence and knowledge with effective communication grounded in facts".
Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, said Guterres is expected to get the COVID-19 vaccination next week. As he himself committed, we will release a photo and video of that because he was very much committed to do it publicly," he said.