UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 14 January 2020 - webcast
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Press Conferences | UNOG

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 14 January 2020 - audio.mp3

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Labour Organization.

Novel coronvirus in China

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that on 31 December 2019, the Government of China had reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, Hubei Province. On 9 January Chinese authorities had made a preliminary determination of a new coronavirus, identified in a hospitalized person with pneumonia in Wuhan. Two days later, Chinese authorities had issued additional information, updating case numbers to 41, reporting one death. They had also shared the complete genomic sequence with WHO and with the public. On 13 January, the health authorities of Thailand had announced the identification of the novel coronvirus in a person traveling from Wuhan.

WHO was still in the earliest stages of understanding this new virus, where it came from, and how it affected people.

Preliminary investigations conducted by national authorities had found no clear evidence of human to human transmission and there were no infections reported among health care workers. However, the mode(s) of transmission had not yet been determined and human to human transmission was always a concern when patients had respiratory symptoms, and this required further investigation. The genetic sequencing, shared by China on 11 January, enabled more countries to rapidly diagnose patients. This had helped Thailand identify the infected person.

So far, 41 suspected cases had tested positive in China for the new coronavirus. Of the 41 cases, seven have been discharged, six were severe, and one person has died. The other patients were reported in stable condition. The reported dates of symptom onset ranged between 8 December 2019-2 January 2020. No new cases had been reported by China since 3 January 2020. Common symptoms had included fever, breathing difficulties and pneumonia.

763 close contacts, including health workers, had been tracked until now and were being monitored for signs of illness; no related cases had been found. The follow-up of close contacts was still in progress. Investigations had found that some of the cases were workers, handlers or frequent visitors at a seafood market in Wuhan where live animals were sold, the Huanan seafood market.

WHO had been in regular and direct contact with Chinese and Thai authorities since the reporting of these cases. Both China and Thailand had shared information with WHO under the IHR. WHO was also informing other countries about the situation and providing support as requested.

WHO was working with its networks of researchers and other experts to coordinate global work on surveillance, epidemiology, modelling, diagnostics, clinical care and treatment, and other ways to identify, manage the disease and limit onward transmission.

WHO was working closely with countries to help them prepare for the rapid detection and response to cases or clusters. Even before an outbreak stroke, WHO offered technical advice and capacity strengthening as needed, including laboratory support.

There were no immediate plans to call an Emergency Committee. However, the committee could be convened on short notice if needed.

Maria D. Van Kerkhove, Head ai of Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the disease will range from mild symptoms to very severe disease and death. The global community had a lot of experience with past coronaviruses. Based on experience, these viruses had the possibility to be transmitted from animals to humans. There was a possibility that transmission could be amplified, including in health care facilities. There was also a possibility of superspreading events – that was on WHO’s radar. It was important to identify the pathogen and the source of the outbreak; there were several ongoing investigations in that regard. It was important to determine which diseases the coronvirus caused, and if there had been human to human transmission. Information was needed to limit exposure and better understand the extent of infection.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Jašarević said that, for now, no travel or trade restrictions had been imposed in relation to this virus. Ms. Van Kerkhove added that WHO was developing diagnostic tests and guidelines to ensure a quick identification of infections. Currently, treatment of infected individuals was based on their specific symptoms.

Vulcano Taal erupts in the Philippines

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), on the eruption of Vulcano Taal in the Philippines, said the UN World Food Programme maintained normal office operations and monitored the situation closely. It had responded to government request for transport support to deliver more than 3,000 family food packs in Batangas. Each food pack could support a family of five or six. World Food Programme was organizing an assessment mission along with the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Killings of human right defenders in Colombia

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Office was deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2019. According to its records, 107 activists had been killed last year, and its staff in Colombia was still in the process of verifying 13 additional cases reported during 2019 which, if confirmed, would raise the annual total to 120 killings. Attacks on human rights defenders had already intensified during 2018, when 115 killings had been confirmed by the United Nations Human Rights Office in Colombia. And this terrible trend was showing no let-up in 2020, with at least 10 human rights defenders already reportedly killed during the first 13 days of January.

 

Full statement is available here.

Responding to journalists’ questions, Ms. Hurtado said half the killings had taken place in just 4 provinces, but there had been attacks in 25 provinces; the violence was spreading across the country. There was not a single perpetrator, but rather various actors involved in these killings, such as armed groups, criminal gangs, drug dealers, criminal or armed groups related to paramilitary groups. While the number of killings were higher prior the signature of the peace agreement, its slow implementation was one of the causes of the current situation.

 

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, would travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo, on an official mission, from 23 to 27 January 2020. She would not attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Nearly 1,000 migrants returned to Libya in the first two weeks of 2020

Safa Msehli, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that at least 953 migrants, among them 136 women and 85 children, had been returned to Libyan shores in the first two weeks of 2020. Most had been disembarked in Tripoli and all had been taken to detention centres. NGO search and rescue vessels had reported having rescued 237 others. These returned migrants were among the more than 1,000 who had left Libya by sea since 1 January, driven in part by the heaviest clashes Tripoli has seen since hostilities began nine months ago.

Full statement is available here.

Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Msehli said that the security situation was one of main reasons that prompted departures from Libya. The majority of people who had left had been returned to the city they were fleeing. Most of these returns had been carried out by the Libyan coastguards. While most of the people who had been returned were from Central and Western Africa, there were also Libyan nationals amongst returnees.

Sudan’s Refugee Response Plan

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said UNHCR was calling for increased support for Sudan with the launch of a new funding appeal that seeks US$477 million to help over 900,000 refugees in the country together with nearly a quarter million of their Sudanese hosts in the coming year. The Sudan Refugee Response Plan, launched in Khartoum this morning, foresaw humanitarian activities by UNHCR with over 30 other partners. Sudan had a long history of hosting refugees and asylum seekers but also struggled with its own internal displacement, while facing a severe economic crisis. The country was going through a historical political transition and required international solidarity to achieve peace and stability.

Full statement is available here.

In answer to questions from journalists, Mr. Baloch recalled that refugees were scattered and lived side by side with their Sudanese hosts. Sudanese had been sharing their resources, which were scarce, with refugees, and needed renewed international support.

Launch of the ILO’s ‘World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2020’ report

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that ILO will be launching its World Employment and Social Outlook Trends report 2020 on Monday 20 January.

This annual report, also known as the WESO, analysed key labour market issues, including unemployment, under-employment, labour underutilization, working poverty, pay inequality, and factors that exclude people from the world of work. It included some new projections, as well as revised estimates of the share of labour income going to the world’s workforce. They included trends by region.

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, would be launching the report at a press briefing at 10.00 CET on Monday 20 January 2020 in Press Room I. The report and all associated materials are under strict embargo until Monday 20 January at 21:00 Geneva time.

Alongside the report launch, ILO would be releasing the first major update to the WESO Data Finder. This web app enables users to explore the ILO’s set of estimates on employment around the world by country, region, income groups and themes. The new version included margins of error, allowing users to see which data points were real and which were imputed or estimated.

Ms. Yarde added that ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, would be in Davos from Tuesday 21st January to Thursday 23rd January. He would be attending several events relating to the world of work including those on the gig economy, technology, education, training and disability.

UNCTAD announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said an embargoed press conference would be held by UNCTAD in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2020 on 15 January at 2.30 p.m.

Turning to new foreign direct investment, Ms. Huissoud added that first evaluations were being conducted for 2019 and they be released as part of Global Investment Trends Monitor on Friday afternoon. This document would be embargoed until Monday. Experts would be available to provide additional information to journalists, but not formal briefing would be organized.

Other Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that this week marked the tenth anniversary of the earthquake that took place in Haiti in 2020.

In a press statement issued on behalf of the United Nations country team in Haiti, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, Helene Lalime, had said, “While we honour the victims, the commemoration of this tragic event must also be a source of renewed engagement and a call to unite behind a vision for a stable, democratic, inclusive and prosperous Haiti.”

Commemorations of the earthquake would take place at various locations. In Geneva, journalists were invited to a ceremony to be held tomorrow, Wednesday 15 January, from 4 to 6 p.m. in Room XX. It had been organized in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Haiti.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), recalled that a document outlining global health challenges had been sent out to journalists last night. It covered issues such as infectious diseases and climate change.

Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Conference on Disarmament would hold next Tuesday, 21 January, the first public plenary of its 2020 session. The session would open under the presidency of Algeria. During this 2020 session, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh and Belarus would also hold the presidency of the Conference. The three parts of the 2020 session of the Conference would take place from 20 January to 27 March for the first part, from 25 May to 10 July for the second part, and from 3 August to 18 September for the third part.

Ms. Vellucci further said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would begin next Monday, 20 January its 83rd session during which it would successively review reports from Belarus, Costa Rica, Hungary, Rwanda, State of Palestine and Austria under the Convention.

 


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