by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, March 27 (Xinhua) -- In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations' critical work is continuing largely uninterrupted, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
"I can report that our critical work is continuing largely uninterrupted," the UN chief said Friday in an unprecedented video-teleconference briefing to 193 member states. "Our business continuity plans are working. We are able to procure goods and services, pay salaries and vendors, operate our data centers and protect our premises and staff."
The staff members, working remotely from home except for the most essential ones, "are motivated and committed to fulfilling their functions, here in New York and across the globe," the UN secretary-general said.
Documentation and publications continue to be processed and are being distributed electronically and provided online for meetings, he said.
"Unfortunately, interpretation services are currently not available remotely, but we are exploring options to provide this function," he added.
The UN chief said there is a need to stand up against the increase in hate crimes targeting individuals and groups perceived to be associated with COVID-19.
Country teams are engaging with national authorities on preparedness and response plans, and a Field Support Group is assisting peacekeeping missions to address the health crisis while delivering on their critical mandates, Guterres said.
The UN secretary-general repeated his call for a global ceasefire and said his special envoys and special representatives are working hard to ensure that the appeal is followed by necessary measures to allow the ceasefires to be effective.
Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief's spokesman, gave an update on how UN headquarters, missions and entities were managing.
In New York, the number of swipes of identification access cards into the building Friday morning was only 140, he said. Earlier in March, before telecommuting was ordered, there were usually about 11,000 swipes for the full day.
In Geneva, the number of people coming to the Palais des Nations dropped from around 4,000 people on a regular day to just about 70 on Thursday.
In Vienna, more than 97 percent of staff members at the Vienna International Center are now working remotely, while in Addis Ababa, the UN staff are telecommuting, with about 99 percent working from home.
Staff members working at the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in Chile, have also put the new work measures into place, the spokesman said.
So far, 86 UN staff members around the world have been infected with COVID-19. Most of them are in Europe, but there are also infected staff members in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and in the United States, Dujarric said.
In Timor Leste, the UN country team has been working with the government to prevent a potential COVID-19 outbreak since one case has been confirmed in the country, he said. The team is also working with news outlets, civil society organizations, businesses, youth representatives, women leaders and others for a whole-of-society approach to prevention, preparedness, and response to the potential outbreak.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an interactive map that shows how children's access to school meals has been disrupted by the pandemic.
About 364 million schoolchildren worldwide are missing out on school meals. This includes 11 million children, in 48 countries, who are no longer receiving WFP school meals. In many cases, that is the only nutritious meal they receive during the day.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is helping out by procuring and shipping vital supplies around the world, including desperately required personal protective equipment to affected countries. UNICEF is engaged with about 1,000 suppliers and industry leaders to find a solution to current market constraints, the spokesman said.
In a statement issued by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Executive Director Natalia Kanem warned that women, girls, and health workers must not be overlooked in the global response.
The UNFPA has launched an appeal to donors, targeting countries with weak public health and social support systems.
The International Migration Agency is monitoring border movements in the area around Thailand, looking at the borders with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, as migrant workers return. There is a risk that the returns could lead to the seeding of new clusters of COVID-19 in those areas. The UN authorities are helping to meet immediate needs on return, including shelter, food, and hygiene kits, said the spokesman.
Dujarric also gave a few examples of the ceasefire situation and continuing efforts in the field by members of the world organization.
"In Colombia, there were calls from civil society for a 'humanitarian truce' to be put in place once the COVID-19 pandemic started to unravel, even before the appeal," Dujarric said.
The UN secretary-general's special representative in Colombia has been relaying the message on a global ceasefire both publicly and in private engagements with stakeholders, the spokesman said.
In Yemen, Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy, welcomed the positive response from parties, calling all of them to urgently meet to discuss how to translate their stated commitments to the Yemeni people into practice, he said.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen welcomed the statement made by the Syrian Democratic Forces expressing their support for the UN secretary-general's appeal.
The UN chief called on all other parties to the Syrian conflict to support his appeal, and the special envoy will be working with the parties to follow through on that, the spokesman said.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is calling on all parties to take all measures to protect civilians and work toward a ceasefire, he said.
UN peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mali, South Sudan and Sudan have all put out messages for local ceasefires, Dujarric said.