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Dennis Francis (General Assembly President) at…

Dennis Francis (General Assembly President) at the Opening of the High-Level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response - General Assembly, 78th session

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Opening remarks by Dennis Francis (President of the 78th session of the General Assembly) at the Opening of the High-Level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response.
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Full Remarks [as delivered]

Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization,

Mr. Axel van Trotsenburg, Senior Managing Director, World Bank,

Ms. Helen Clark, Former Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, 

Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Dear colleagues,

 

It is an honor to welcome you all to this High-Level Meeting on Pandemic Preparedness, Prevention and Response, which as you would recall is convened pursuant to General Assembly Resolutions A/RES/76/301 and A/RES/77/275.

At the outset, I wish to commend the Co-facilitators of the Political Declaration, Their Excellencies Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives Gilad Erdan of Israel and Omar Hilale of Morocco, for guiding Member States through the rather arduous but successful negotiations process.

And I also extend my appreciation to the World Health Organization for its support and collaboration during the preparatory process for this important meeting.

Excellencies,

Today's High-Level Meeting testifies to the preeminent role of the General Assembly to take leadership in addressing one of the most pressing global challenges of our time - the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most difficult times of the pandemic may be behind us – from the dreaded lockdowns when our planet was effectively sheltered in place, to curtailment of economic activity and free movement of goods and services.

But the pandemic's scars and multifaceted impacts are indelibly ingrained on the lives of so many.

Its humanitarian toll reverberated around the world, and the dent on the economies and health systems of our countries will linger for years.

I know that for many even amongst us here today, the pandemic hit hard at home among family members and relatives.

We must continue to remember the many lives that were sadly lost, including health and all other essential workers.

But the reality is that we were simply found wanting in our state of preparedness and the way we responded.

To be frank, we were woefully unprepared for such an onslaught.

As we pick up the pieces, it behooves us that the hard lessons we have learned from this pandemic call upon us to do much better.

We can – and we must – avoid so preventable deaths and calamitous global economic turmoil of the epic proportions we witnessed during COVID-19.

Excellencies,

We cannot blindly assume that this is the last pandemic; there will be others, just as there have been successive ones in the past.

We owe it to ourselves – and importantly to future generations for whom we hold this planet in trust – to make sure that we are ready for what is to come.

We also owe it to those most vulnerable in our communities, who regrettably unfairly bore the heaviest brunt of COVID-19.

Most importantly, the mantra of no one is safe until everyone is safe demands that in times of a pandemic all nations unite and act in solidarity – not to arbitrarily introduce protectionist and isolationist measures.

We all know that in developing countries, especially those least developed:

    • not every economy was able to support stimulation packages,
    • not every business/company was able to support work from home,
    • not every learner, if any, could do so remotely,
    • not every hospital was equipped with sufficient supplies,
    • and not every airport or hub had the capacity to roll out test kits and PPEs.

In the end, this pandemic pulled back the curtain on inequities that plague our world.

The pandemic literally punched holes into our social protection systems and safety nets.

Our efforts on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response must therefore be aimed at fortifying and strengthening every country and every community.

Because – make no mistake – a pandemic knows no borders.

Uncoordinated response and enactment of unilateral measures is not in anyone's best interest.

Acting in silos can only see the virus fester, mutate, and spread to any corner of the world and putting everyone at equal risk.

It is therefore morally and practically imperative that we address these shortcomings and, again, that we act in solidarity.

And that is very much the message I want to leave you with today: solidarity.

That is what we need if we are to prepare better for future pandemics.

That is what we need if we are to secure peace and prosperity.

That is what we need for sustainable development.

Acting with a unity of purpose is the foundational bedrock of what makes the United Nations work – what makes us nations united.

We must approach everything we do in that spirit.

This meeting and the Political Declaration to be approved by Member States are important steps in that regard.

The Declaration before you should go a long way to demonstrate continued commitment by the international community to do better in the face of other future pandemics – that is, better prevention, preparedness, and response.

As I have said, the pandemic was undeniably a dark time for each one of us, our communities, and our societies.

But, amidst the bleak days and somber newscasts, there were brief moments of beauty.

That beauty came in songs of solidarity and resilience from balconies in Europe; in pots and pans clamoring for healthcare workers in New York City; and in poems and social media posts.

Let us engender the same zeal and political will to work across the lines of division; across sectors; and work together with public and private partners.

Let us be bold in our actions and reach for tomorrow's betterment today.

Thank you.

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