Much as it has dominated headlines throughout 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was the most highlighted issue at the annual United Nations General Assembly, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year.
The conference, which is normally held at the UN headquarters in New York City, was held virtually this year because of the pandemic. Leaders from across the globe gave pre-recorded speeches to a hall of only 210 diplomats, a far cry from the 2500 normally in attendance, according to CNN.
CNN also reports that due to the lack of necessary travel, a record-setting 170 governmental leaders from around the world participated. Strategies on how to combat and eliminate the novel Coronavirus was at the forefront of many of their speeches.
Reuters reports that the COVAX movement, led by the World Health Organization, aims to deliver two billion vaccine doses around the world by the end of 2021. While it has received $3 billion in pledges from nations around the world, the organization still needs an additional $35 billion.
168 nations have joined the movement, representing 70 percent of the world’s population, Reuters continues. China, Russia, and the United States have yet to join the movement, with the U.S. stating that it has reached its own deal with vaccine developers.
Calls for unity between nations to work towards a global solution were apparent. The Associated Press reports that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged world leaders to cooperate against the “common foe” of COVID-19, accusing the disease of fraying bonds between nations and saying that “never again must we wage 193 separate campaigns against the same enemy.”
AP continues that Johnson committed 50 million pounds to the COVAX movement. He also announced that the UK is boosting its funding of the World Health Organization to 340 million pounds over the next 4 years, a 30 percent increase.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged during his speech that he would make India’s vaccine production capacity available globally, reports Al Jazeera. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison shared a similar sentiment, telling the General Assembly that “whoever finds the vaccine must share it.” Modi stated in his speech that India currently has vaccines in phase three of clinical trials and are prepared for widespread distribution as soon as possible.
VOA reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that his country also has vaccines in phase three, preparing for global use. He also promised to provide an additional $50 million to the UN’s global humanitarian response to COVID-19.
Unlike many of his global counterparts, U.S. President Donald Trump fiercely criticized China. In his speech, he called for the UN to “hold China accountable for their actions” during the early stages of the pandemic, condemned criticism of the U.S. travel ban, and accused the Chinese government of spreading false information.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been calling for a global humanitarian truce since March to help create a more effective, global response to the coronavirus, VOA furthers. While this initiative has received significant verbal response from nations, there has been little success at any implementation.
Some global leaders are worried that COVID-19 took up so much of the spotlight that other issues are not getting the proper amount of attention, says the Associated Press. Issues such as climate change, refugee migration, global poverty, gender-based violence, and cyber security were among those receiving less attention. Some are worried that inaction on these fronts could erase progress.
Until a preventative cure for COVID-19 is found, it is apparent that the virus will be at the forefront of the global mind. However, the Associated Press reports that General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir ended the conference on a positive note. “The challenges facing us are enormous,” he said, “but so are the possibilities of solutions. By working together, we can overcome them.”