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UN system acts on coronavirus by limiting access to UN sites, pooling resources

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-03-11 09:38
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UNITED NATIONS - Agencies, departments and offices of the United Nations are taking action to address the novel coronavirus crisis by limiting access to UN sites and by pooling resources for preparedness, UN officials said on Tuesday.

"Very important measures were decided mostly over the weekend and yesterday (Monday)," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters. "They have been announced today (Tuesday) to member states. And they are preventive measures with the objective to prevent and, obviously, if something happens, to contain (the virus)."

"And we are totally committed to cooperate with the authorities of the (host) country, the state, and the city in order to be part of the effort in New York," he added.

Guterres was referring to new restrictions on access to UN Headquarters in New York.

"It has been decided to close the complex to the general public and to temporarily suspend all guided tours until further notice," said Stephane Dujarric, Guterres' spokesman, in a note to correspondents earlier on Tuesday.

These arrangements will come into effect on Tuesday at 8 p.m. New York time (0000 GMT Wednesday), he said.

The United Nations will continue to monitor the situation closely and further measures may be taken as circumstances evolve, said the spokesman, adding that the secretary-general takes the health and safety of UN staff as a matter of utmost priority and concern.

The UN Headquarters in New York City, located in Midtown Manhattan on the East River, is a popular tourist attraction. Guided tours have been offered at UN Headquarters ever since the complex opened in 1952.

The UN Visit Centre says approximately 1 million visitors from around the world come to visit the United Nations every year. Enrollment in a guided tour costs 22 U.S. dollars per adult.

The world body is also restricting access to the UN Secretariat building, the tallest structure in the complex.

In a notice to correspondents at the United Nations, the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU) said that only those in possession of a valid UN grounds pass or special event tag will be allowed access to the Secretariat building.

Any other visitors requiring access into the building for a meeting or other events will need to be signed in and escorted by a UN staff member or a delegate from member states, said MALU.

"At this time of increasing worries expressed by staff members and others, these measures and those announced this morning should help promote a better work atmosphere while contributing to the active management of any risks," it said.

A state of emergency over COVID-19 was declared in New York State earlier in the week.

Although no cases of infection of the novel coronavirus have been reported so far among UN staff in New York, Undersecretary-General Atul Khare for the Department of Operational Support briefed member states on COVID-19 in an informal meeting on Tuesday morning called by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters in Geneva on Monday that, now that COVID-19 has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real, but he also stressed that it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.

The UN Refugee Agency on Tuesday launched an initial appeal for 33 million US dollars to boost preparedness, prevention, and response to address the public health needs of refugees prompted by COVID-19.

High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that as of Tuesday and based on available evidence, there have been no reports of COVID-19 infections among refugees and asylum seekers. But he said the virus can affect anyone and stressed the need to ensure that the global response includes all people.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on Tuesday that one in five students worldwide is staying away from school due to the COVID-19 crisis and an additional one in four is being kept out of institutions of higher education. Data show that the crisis is now impacting close to 363 million students worldwide, from the pre-primary to tertiary level, including 57.8 million students in higher education.

Fifteen countries have ordered nationwide school closures and 14 have implemented localized closures, spanning Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America, the agency reported.

A global videoconference of higher education officials on Tuesday was convened to step up the emergency response and share strategies to minimize learning disruption.

UNESCO also announced the creation of an emergency task force that will support national responses and share effective policy responses with a focus on the most vulnerable countries. It has published a list of freely accessible learning applications and platforms for use by parents, teachers and students, as well as school systems.

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