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Human tragedies more brutal than COVID-19 if poor not helped with coronavirus fallout, says UN

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Graves are being prepared across South Africa as it faces possible shortages of COVID-19 beds and oxygen supply
Graves are being prepared across South Africa as it faces possible shortages of COVID-19 beds and oxygen supply   -   Copyright  AP Photo Denis Farrell
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The UN has called on the world’s wealthier nations to help the poorest deal with the fallout of from the coronavirus pandemic, warning that so far the response has been “grossly inadequate”.

“Unless we act now, we should be prepared for a series of human tragedies more brutal and more destructive than any of the direct impacts of the virus itself,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, speaking at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) coronavirus press briefing.

The call for action came as the UN relaunched a $10.3 billion (€9bn) appeal to fight COVID-19 in fragile and low-income countries.

Just $1.7 billion (€1.48bn) of that target has been raised so far. Lowcock said the response of wealthier nations “grossly inadequate”.

Inaction will “undo decades of development” and “create a generation’s worth of tragic and exportable problems” he warned, as he called for money, leadership, and fresh thinking from world leaders.

“Every country is being hurt by this pandemic, but I do have to say that the response of wealthy nations who have rightly thrown out the fiscal and monetary rule books to protect their people, and their economies, their response has been grossly inadequate when it comes to helping the poorer countries and that is dangerously short-sighted,” he said.

The appeal is raising money for UN agencies to work with NGOs to; deliver testing equipment and medical supplies; install handwashing stations; launch public information campaigns; and to establish air bridges and hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to move humanitarian workers and supplies to where they are needed most.

'We owe health workers an enormous debt'

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, opened the briefing with a tribute to health workers, who he said make-up around 10% of COVID-19 cases globally.

He welcomed the pay rise announced for French health workers on Monday and said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that there is no health without health workers. We all owe health workers an enormous debt – not just because they have cared for the sick. But because they have risked their own lives in the line of duty.”

Many, he added, are suffering physical and psychological exhaustion as a result of working in stressful environments for months, dealing with the pandemic.

Tedros also reiterated the warning from Lowcock: "If we fail to address the wider impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we risk an even greater crisis than the one brought about by the virus itself.”