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World Leaders to Talk at UN on COVID-1912/03 06:28


   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Nearly 100 world leaders and several dozen government 
ministers are scheduled to speak at the U.N. General Assembly's special session 
that opens Thursday to discuss the response to COVID-19 and the best path to 
recovery from the pandemic, which has claimed 1.5 million lives and shattered 
economies in both rich and poor countries.

   Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said when he took the reins of the 
193-member world body in September that it would have been better to hold the 
high-level meeting in June. Nonetheless, he said Wednesday that the session 
"provides a historic moment for us to come together to beat COVID-19."

   "With news of multiple vaccines on the cusp of approval, and with trillions 
of dollars flowing into global recovery efforts, the international community 
has a unique opportunity to do this right," he said. "The world is looking to 
the U.N. for leadership. This is a test for multilateralism."

   When financial markets collapsed and the world faced its last great crisis 
in 2008, major powers worked together to restore the global economy, but the 
COVID-19 pandemic has been striking for the opposite response: no leader, no 
united action to stop the pandemic that has circled the globe.

   U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to leaders of the 
Group of 20, the world's richest nations responsible for 80 percent of the 
global economy ahead of their summit in late March as COVID-19 was starting its 
killing spree urging that they adopt a "wartime" plan and cooperate on an 
international response to suppress the coronavirus. But there was no response.

   The two-day special session will not be raising money to finance vaccine 
immunizations or taking any political action, and there will be no final 
declaration, just a summary document from Bozkir.

   "The real point of this special session is to galvanize concrete action to 
approach our response to COVID-19 in a multilateral and collective way," 
General Assembly spokesman Brenden Varma said Wednesday. He added there are 
currently many responses to the pandemic, but what's needed now is to bring 
together all countries, U.N. actors, the private sector and vaccine developers.

   Leaders and ministers from over 140 countries will deliver pre-recorded 
speeches on Thursday after an in-person opening in the General Assembly 
including speeches by Bozkir and Guterres.

   Among the leaders slated to address the session are French President 
Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris 
Johnson, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, South African President Cyril 
Ramaphosa, and European Union chief Charles Michel. The United States will be 
represented by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

   Friday's session will focus on three virtrual panels, the first on the 
U.N.'s response to COVID-19 and the second on vaccines that will include 
representatives from producers BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca, and 
the World Health Organization's ACT-Accelerator which is working to get 
vaccines to the world's poorest people. The final panel is on recovery from 
COVID-19. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is expected to participate in 
all three panels.

   Canada's U.N. deputy ambassador Louise Blais, who organized the special 
session with Azerbaijan's Ambassador Yashar Aliev, said it will be the first 
time that the U.N. system is bringing key players together to focus on 
COVID-19's "myriad impacts."

   "Countries around the world are facing their own internal impacts, but it's 
important that the U.N. continue to advocate ... that this crisis impacts us 
all and the solutions are global," she told The Associated Press in an 
interview. "So, we have to work together in order to ensure that all of us get 
out of this, because until everyone does, no one is really safe."

   Blais said the session is "an important step" and will focus on implementing 
the three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly on COVID-29, especially 
the wide-ranging measure approved in September.

   The special session "comes at a critical time," Blais noted, "because we now 
know that there are a number of vaccines that have proven to be effective."

   "Now, all eyes are on the critical distribution of vaccines," she said, 
adding that this is expected to be a key during the special session and it's 
one "where the world is expecting us to work together and make sure that we 
have an equitable distribution of vaccine globally."

   U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said secretary-general Guterres will be 
focusing on the need for all countries and people everywhere to have access to 

   "The vaccine needs to be treated as a `global public good' and that will be 
the basis of the secretary-general's message" Thursday, Dujarric said.

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