Dr. Ma Xiaowei, Minister of National Health Commission,
Colleagues from Shanghai, Hubei, Guangdong and Sichuan Provincial Health Commission,
We are meeting at a critical point in time for the world, a time when we have passed a threshold of over 100,000 reported cases in over 100 countries and as the WHO has just made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. But it is a pandemic that can be controlled and as China has shown, we can influence the trajectory of this outbreak.
In China, the outbreak is starting to slow. Of the 80,000 reported cases more than 70% have recovered and been discharged. However, now is not the time to relax. The prevention of a second wave is crucial, and we must start the road to recovery.
And in the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. Therefore, we must also step up and support these newly infected countries, particularly those with weaker health systems.
The situation has been developing quickly and continues to evolve worldwide. China has taken this into account and shown great agility in differentiating between contexts and in repurposing the available resources.
For this, I must compliment the Chinese people, who, despite the severe social and economic impact they face in adhering to the preventive measures put in place by government, are demonstrating that collective action and a commitment to a whole of society approach can change the direction of the outbreak.
I also want to take a moment to commend the frontline workers who are working day and night to treat the sick, save lives and bring this outbreak under control, including colleagues from Shanghai, Hubei, Guangdong and Sichuan Provincial Health Commission who are with us virtually at today’s press conference.
But at the UN, we do hope this pandemic doesn’t detract from the development goal of this year - eliminating extreme poverty, which will be particularly challenging during this time.
Often during an outbreak, poorer communities without the capacity or resources to respond are disproportionately affected, and there is also the wider impact on the health system for people not necessarily suffering from COVID-19, but from other illnesses which may not be prioritized because of the attention on the coronavirus.
Beyond the health system, there’s also the impact on the education system with children not being able to go to school and of course the broader economic impact as well.
That’s why, the UN family is here to support these vulnerable groups during this time. Since mid-January, the UN System in China has together coordinated closely with the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and the National Health Commission (NHC) to understand the needs of the government and UN agencies are coordinating to procure much needed resources and mobilise funding.
UNICEF was the first agency to mobilise supplies and has so far sent four shipments to China. UNDP, UNFPA, UNIDO and UNOSSC have also organised shipments and many other agencies are in the process of procuring supplies.
Each UN agency is working closely with WHO, bringing their own development expertise and is supporting China with the broader socio-economic impacts, through a ‘one UN response’.
Already UNDP has translated the key health messages across regional dialects, to make sure those vulnerable ethnic minority groups have access to the critical information they need. UNICEF has created an online information portal for parents to help them keep their children safe. UNAIDS has launched a nationwide survey to make sure all those living with HIV are still receiving the help they need during this difficult time.
And together, the UN family is discussing the process and methodology for conducting a joint assessment in collaboration with Chinese Government on the impact of the COVID-19, the lessons learned and how the UN can support recovery efforts. This will allow us to understand the complex impacts and provide timely and relevant support to the Government of China during the recovery phase. We expect many of the challenges to be cross-cutting, impacting the health system, education, poverty reduction efforts, and the economy.
And now, together, we must also support other countries with controlling the outbreak. China has demonstrated that spread of the virus can be slowed and the impact reduced through measures such as working across society to identify people who are sick, bringing them to care, following up on contacts, preparing hospitals and training health workers.
And China’s community mobilisation and all of society approach to combating the virus can also provide essential lessons for others on managing the socio-economic impacts.
For example, how to continue to provide quality education to children who may need to remain at home, through efficiently switching to online teaching. Or how to support business productivity in a safe and coordinated manner, to stimulate the economy and make sure jobs are secure, especially for vulnerable groups such as migrant workers.
The UN, through our international networks and strong South-South portfolio, can help share these best practices and lessons learnt so others can also successfully respond to this outbreak. China has a lot of experience in dealing with this challenge and the UN stands ready to support the effort to leave no one behind during this difficult time.
We can successfully respond to this pandemic if all countries take a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach, built around a comprehensive, blended strategy to prevent infections, save lives and minimize impact.
In the end I want to reiterate what the United Nations Secretary General has highlighted: “to successfully defeat the COVID-19 outbreak, international cooperation is indispensable and all countries must work together in the spirt of solidarity and cooperation.”