UN chief calls for ‘immediate global ceasefire’ amid pandemic

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed Monday for an “immediate global ceasefire” to protect vulnerable civilians in conflict zones from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said in a brief speech at UN headquarters in New York, mentioning no country by name. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.”

Syria has reported its first case of the COVID-19 virus, in a country already torn by 10 years of war, and other cases have emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

Experts and diplomats expect the virus to wreak havoc in countries in conflict, which often are very poor and with fragile health care systems.

“It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Guterres said. “Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.”

Doing so, he said, was crucial for opening corridors to deliver life-saving aid.

“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now,” he said.

After Guterres’ call last week for a global response to the pandemic, which he said has put “millions” of lives at risk, the UN is expected to unveil on Wednesday a detailed worldwide plan of humanitarian relief with the creation of a fund dedicated to the international fight against the virus.