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UN calls to protect children from COVID-19 consequences

By AFP
April 17, 2020

NEW YORK: The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Thursday on families and global leaders to "protect our children," who stand to suffer severe consequences of the pandemic even if they are at lower risk.

"I appeal to families everywhere, and leaders at all levels: protect our children," Guterres said in a statement, while presenting a report on the pandemic’s impact on children.

"With the global recession gathering pace, there could be hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020." According to the UN, this estimate could in one year destroy the progress made over the last two or three in lowering the infant mortality rate.

As schools close across the globe due to the spread of COVID-19, children could also struggle with access to food, as "a staggering 310 million schoolchildren... rely on school for a regular source of daily nutrition," Guterres said.

The UN said that 188 of the 193 member nations have closed schools, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youths.

Furthermore, lockdown measures and increased global recession are fueling increased tensions within families, and "children are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse," Guterres said.

Children’s health could also suffer. In an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, Guterres explained, "polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended. Measles immunization campaigns have stopped in at least 23 countries."

Multiple organisations and foundations estimated Tuesday that more than 117 million children could be deprived of measles vaccines due to the halt of vaccination campaigns.

Before the vaccine was introduced in 1963 and became widely accessible, the world recorded major measles epidemics every two to three years that could cause about 2.6 million deaths per year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday rejected as counterproductive attempts to blame Beijing for delaying informing the world about the coronavirus, the Kremlin said.

Putin and Xi spoke after US President Donald Trump’s administration berated China for not sharing data more quickly.

Washington is also investigating the origins of the coronavirus -- which has killed more than 138,700 people worldwide -- saying it doesn’t rule out that it came from a laboratory researching bats in Wuhan, China.

The Kremlin said that during phone talks with Xi on Thursday Putin praised "consistent and effective actions" of the Chinese "which allowed the epidemiological situation in the country to stabilise."

The leaders did not reference the White House directly but stressed the "counterproductiveness" of attempts to blame China for not informing the world about the appearance of a dangerous new infection quickly enough.

Since emerging in China late last year, the pandemic has turned the world upside down, forcing half of humanity indoors and sending the global economy into freefall.

Putin and Xi also stressed the two countries’ "strategic partnership" and said Russia and China were ready to help each other during the pandemic by exchanging specialists and supplying medical equipment, protective gear and medicines, the Kremlin said.

"The two leaders expressed confidence that our countries will be able to successfully overcome the pandemic-related challenges by continuing to closely cooperate," Putin’s office said.

In a related development, parts of Europe moved cautiously to reopen their streets and economies on Thursday but the coronavirus pandemic was far from beaten and the World Health Organisation warned the continent was still in the "eye of the storm".

Since emerging in China late last year, the virus has turned the world upside down, killing tens of thousands, forcing half of humanity indoors and raising the spectre of a second Great Depression.

Hope that its spread has peaked in Europe and the United States has seen some countries take tentative steps to ease restrictions, with US President Donald Trump set to unveil plans on Thursday for lifting lockdowns across the world’s top economy.

But with global cases and deaths still growing -- and fears of a second wave of infections in previously hit countries -- officials are warning that life around the world will not be returning to normal until a vaccine is available. "We remain in the eye of the storm," the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said in an online news conference from Copenhagen.

Positive signs in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland were overshadowed by sustained or increased levels of infections in other countries, such as Britain, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, he said. "It is imperative that we do not let down our guard."

More than two million people have been infected with the virus around the world and 137,000, including 90,000 in Europe, have died, according to an AFP tally.

Hard-hit parts of Europe have seen a slowdown in infections and deaths in recent days, with Spain recording 551 new deaths on Thursday, almost half of the daily toll at its peak. After weeks on strict lockdowns, Spain and Italy have begun to ease restrictions, allowing some businesses to reopen.

Germany on Wednesday also announced initial steps to reopen some shops and gradually restart schools, Denmark began reopening schools for younger children after a month-long closure and Finland lifted a blockade of Helsinki.