In response to the global crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, community volunteers, local civil society groups, and major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have joined forces to demand a 12-point plan from world leaders.
Ahead of the World Health Assembly and as governments consider key steps towards recovery, the group is calling for a joined up plan to fight the crisis and build a just recovery that tackles the interlinked challenges of providing universal healthcare, reducing inequalities and guaranteeing human rights; alongside the critical need to re-think our economies in response to the parallel crises of climate change and biodiversity.
An unprecedented coalition of over 400 organisations working on human rights and sustainable development in every continent have come together including Action for Sustainable Development, CIVICUS, Femnet, Forus, GCAP, Global Citizen, HelpAge International, Oxfam, Restless Development, Save The Children, Women Deliver and many more regional networks, voluntary groups and local activists.
It comes as the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable groups is becoming increasingly evident. Recent analysis shows that the COVID-19 crisis risks pushing half a billion people into poverty. The UN has estimated that the pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, pushing it to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020 and there are predictions of very high numbers of more cases of domestic violence around the world this year as a result of pandemic restrictions.
The statement comes ahead of a joint ‘Day of Solidarity’ to highlight community action around the world on Friday, 22 May 2020.
In a joint statement, the groups have said: “We are strongly committed to ensuring that civil society organisations and volunteers play a critical role in supporting community action and ensuring that those who are most often marginalised are not left behind through this challenging time… but we expect world leaders to ensure key measures are addressed to build a fairer future.”
GCAP Global Co-Chairwoman Rebecca Malay said: “Now is the best time to come together to change the system that created these multiple crises. Only with the people can governments achieve the change we need.”
GCAP Global Co-Chairman Riccardo Moro said: “This global pandemic shows how connected we are, but at the same time how weak we are in responding together. Competition among nations and irresponsible delegitimization of multilateral institutions, combined with neoliberal policies that have systematically shrunk resources and public roles, have harmed our capacity to respond to this crisis. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the most vulnerable are paying the highest price and inequalities, already unacceptable, are increasing. We need strong political initiatives to provide health care and social protection for all. We need robust policies to support a fair recovery in the framework of climate justice, focusing on social inclusion and reduction of inequalities. We call for debt cancellation and daring financial policies. We condemn all forms of discrimination, racism, and lack of human rights. We support the UN Secretary General’s call for immediate ceasefires globally. We call for a true and committed and effective global solidarity.”
HelpAge International CEO Justin Derbyshire said: “COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on older people and those with disabilities and underlying health conditions, who also face serious social and economic consequences from the pandemic. It highlights the importance of a whole-of-society approach to deliver well-resourced health and social protection systems that respond to all ages. This is an urgent healthcare emergency that shines a glaring light on the underlying fragility and inequalities of our societies and the critical need for stronger, more resilient and equitable systems, as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.”
CIVICUS Secretary General Lysa John said: “Inequalities have exacerbated the challenges facing many populations during this global pandemic, it is essential that any stimulus and rescue packages must include commitments and measures to ensure universal health and social care, gender equality and a global commitment to universal social protection. At the same time, it is critical that as part of the recovery, every country meets their obligations under the Paris Agreement; putting us firmly on the path to net zero, with global heating limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve the above, meaningful partnerships with Civil Society are vital. We urge decision makers to involve Civil Society in policy responses and create enabling conditions for our participation.”
African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) Executive Director Memory Kachambwa said: “Women play an outsized role in the COVID-19 response. They constitute 70% of the world’s health care workforce and recognizing that they are workers who are on the frontlines of responding to this health emergency, they must be adequately, appropriately and properly protected and supported to cope with the multiple impacts. At the same time, women’s traditional role as caregivers for sick family members is putting more women and girls at greater risk of infection and increasing the burden of care work. Women particularly from the Global South are engaged in informal work, with poor social security and are among the most affected during this pandemic.
"Past health emergencies have caused a disruption in routine health services such as access to sexual and reproductive health products and services, access to vaccines programmes, and the provision of quality maternal care—this disruption of services has grave consequences to millions of lives. We call on governments to safeguard the provision of essential health services through strong primary healthcare systems and universal healthcare systems that are inclusive of sexual and reproductive health services during and post this COVID-19 crisis. Governments must include service providers working on ending gender-based violence as essential services.”
"In summary as world leaders begin to map a way forward out of the crisis, the groups call on them to ensure the approach to recovery is guided by the principles of the Sustainable Development Goals. They insist that: “We need a major economic stimulus that underpins a new social contract between people, governments and the market, that radically reduces inequality, gender inequalities and lays the foundations for a just, equal and sustainable economy that works for all people at every stage of their lives.”
Full set of 12 points are as follows:
The UN to:
1. Connect immediate response and recovery funding directly with local groups which includes a ‘gender marker’ for women, marginalized people, community organisations and social enterprises to ensure we leave no one behind
2. Safeguard freedom of expression and support innovative approaches to digital freedom of assembly to ensure all voices are heard
3. Promote the global ceasefire and support governments to re-direct military spending to social protection
4. Call for a ban on the live wild animal trade and a halt to deforestation
In the short term ‘response’ phase, member state governments and donor agencies to:
5. Safeguard health-care workers and social care workers on the frontline by ensuring they have access to safe and decent working conditions and are resourced properly
6. Involve civil society organizations in policy and operational responses to COVID-19
7. Uphold financial and policy commitments to a human rights based approach, in particular the rights of older people, persons with disabilities and women, girls and gender diverse people
8. Implement clear social and environmental conditions on any emergency financial stimulus to companies, such as treating workers fairly and cutting carbon emissions
In the medium term ‘recovery’ phase, Member state governments and donor agencies to:
9. Drive a seismic shift towards universal healthcare, welfare payments and social protection that include essential services such as vaccine programs, sexual and reproductive health products and services for all
10. Cancel national debts to ensure sufficient finance is available to governments to ensure a just recovery
11. Adopt fairer taxation policies on those who hold the most resources in our society, alongside measures to tackle illicit financial flows to pay for these protections
12. Put in place incentives for a feminist, green industrial revolution to enable rapid scaling up of sustainable jobs
For more information, click here.
For more information, see also GCAP’s COVID-19 page.
Dutch PM condemns lockdown riots as 'criminal violence'
The police said hundreds of people had been detained after incidents that began on Saturday evening and lasted until the early hours of Monday, including some in which rioters threw rocks and in one case knives at police and burned down a COVID-19 testing station.
“This has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and we will treat it as such,” Rutte told reporters outside his office in The Hague.
Schools and non-essential shops in the Netherlands have been shut since mid-December, following the closure of bars and restaurants two months earlier.
Rutte’s government added the curfew as an additional lockdown measure from Saturday over fears that the British variant of COVID-19 may soon lead to an increase in cases.
There have been 13,540 deaths in the Netherlands from COVID-19 and 944,000 infections.
The police trade union NPB said there could be more protests ahead, as people grow increasingly frustrated with the country’s months-long lockdown.
“We haven’t seen so much violence in 40 years,” union board member Koen Simmers said on television program Nieuwsuur.
Police used water cannon, dogs and officers on horseback to disperse a protest in central Amsterdam on Sunday afternoon. Nearly 200 people, some of them throwing stones and fireworks, were detained in the city.
In the southern city of Eindhoven, looters plundered stores at the train station and set cars and bikes on fire.
When police said the demonstrators were violating the country’s current lockdown rules “they took weapons out of their pockets and immediately attacked the police”, Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma said.
Head of French health regulatory body: COVID situation is 'worrying'
The COVID-19 situation in France is worrying, the head of the country’s Haute Autorite de Sante (HAS) health regulator told France Inter radio on Monday (25 January), as President Emmanuel Macron’s government considers a new lockdown, write Sudip Kar-Gupta and Dominique Vidalon.
France has the world’s seventh-highest COVID-19 death toll, with more than 73,000 deaths.
“It is a worrying moment. We are looking at the figures, day by day. We need to take measures pretty quickly....but at the same time, not too hastily,” said HAS head Dominique Le Guludec.
Jean-François Delfraissy, head of the scientific council that advises the government on COVID-19, had said on Sunday that France probably needed a third national lockdown, perhaps as early as the February school holidays, because of the circulation of new variants of the virus.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune, when asked about this on French radio on Monday, replied that no firm decision had been taken on the matter.
France is currently in a nationwide 18h to 6h curfew, in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus, but the average number of new infections has increased from 18,000 per day to more than 20,000.
Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, head of the MEDEF French business lobby group, said he would call on the government to keep as many businesses and schools open as possible in any new lockdown, to protect the economy and help children’s education.
EU urges AstraZeneca to speed up vaccine deliveries amid 'supply shock'
In a sign of the EU’s frustration - after Pfizer also announced supply delays earlier in January - a senior EU official told Reuters the bloc would in the coming days require pharmaceutical companies to register COVID-19 vaccine exports.
AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March, with an EU official involved in the talks telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses.
“We expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly,” an EU Commission spokesman said, adding the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen had a call earlier on Monday with AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot to remind him of the firm’s commitments.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said Soriot told von der Leyen the company was doing everything it could to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.
News emerged on Monday that the company faces wider supply problems.
Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters AstraZeneca had advised the country it had experienced “a significant supply shock”, which would cut supplies in March below what was agreed. He did not provide figures.
Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said AstraZeneca would be supplying 150,000 doses instead of the 200,000 planned, and far less than the 1 million shots the country had initially requested.
AstraZeneca declined to comment on global supply issues.
The senior EU official said the bloc had a contractual right to check the company’s books to assess production and deliveries, a move that could imply the EU fears doses being diverted from Europe to other buyers outside the bloc.
AstraZeneca has received an upfront payment of 336 million euros ($409 million) from the EU, another official told Reuters when the 27-nation bloc sealed a supply deal with the company in August for at least 300 million doses - the first signed by the EU to secure COVID-19 shots..
Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down-payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity.
“Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain,” AstraZeneca said on Friday.
The site is a viral vectors factory in Belgium run by the drugmaker’s partner Novasep.
Viral vectors are produced in genetically modified living cells that have to be nurtured in bioreactors. The complex procedure requires fine-tuning of various inputs and variables to arrive at consistently high yields.
“The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent,” said EU lawmaker Peter Liese, who is from the same party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The EU called a meeting with AstraZeneca after Friday’s (22 January) announcement to seek further clarification. The meeting started at 1230 CET on Monday.
The EU official involved in the talks with AstraZeneca said expectations were not high for the meeting, in which the company will be asked to better explain the delays.
Earlier in January, Pfizer, which is currently the largest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, announced delays of nearly a month to its shipments, but hours later revised this to say the delays would last only a week.
EU contracts with vaccine makers are confidential, but the EU official involved in the talks did not rule out penalties for AstraZeneca, given the large revision to its commitments. However, the source did not elaborate on what could trigger the penalties. “We are not there yet,” the official added.
“AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay,” Liese said.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on Jan. 29, with first deliveries expected from 15 February.
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