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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 19 April 2021

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  • Last week, new cases of COVID-19 increased for the eighth week in a row, with more than 5.2 million cases reported - the most in a single week so far. Deaths rose for the fifth straight week, and more than 3 million deaths have now been reported to WHO.

  • Today the Emergency Committee gave me its advice on vaccines, variants, international travel and other issues. Its full statement is available on our website.

  • Greta Thunberg has become the powerful voice of a younger generation demanding climate action. Today, Greta has announced a donation of 100 000 Euros from the Greta Thunberg Foundation, to the WHO Foundation in support of COVAX to provide vaccines to people in need.

  • WHO is committed to ensuring that the global recovery from COVID-19 includes the voices, energy and ideas of young people. To do that, we have partnered with an alliance of the six largest youth development organisations in the world to form the Global Youth Mobilization, to empower young people to respond to the challenges created by the pandemic in their local communities.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Last week, new cases of COVID-19 increased for the eighth week in a row, with more than 5.2 million cases reported - the most in a single week so far.

Deaths rose for the fifth straight week, and more than 3 million deaths have now been reported to WHO.

It took 9 months to reach 1 million deaths; 4 months to reach 2 million, and 3 months to reach 3 million.

Big numbers can make us numb. But each one of these deaths is a tragedy for families, communities and nations.

Infections and hospitalizations among people aged 25 to 59 are increasing at an alarming rate, possibly as a result of highly transmissible variants and increased social mixing among younger adults.

Today the Emergency Committee gave me its advice on vaccines, variants, international travel and other issues. Its full statement is available on our website.

We have the tools to bring this pandemic under control in a matter of months, if we apply them consistently and equitably.

On Friday, WHO issued an expression of interest for establishing a COVID-19 technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines, to increase production of those vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.

We are calling for the original manufacturers of mRNA vaccines to contribute their technology and know-how to a central hub, and for manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries to express interest in receiving that technology.

We have seen incredible innovation in science; now we need innovation to ensure as many people as possible benefit from that science.

The pandemic will recede. But we will still be left with all the other challenges that we had before, including the climate crisis.

This week marks Earth Day, on the 22nd of April – a reminder that human health depends on the health of the planet that sustains us.

COVID-19 has now killed more than 3 million people.

Air pollution kills more than double that number – 7 million people – every single year.

Despite temporary improvements in air quality last year as a result of so-called lockdowns, by September air pollution had returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Globally, CO2 emissions only decreased by less than 6% last year, but by December, they had rebounded to their previous levels.

The health argument for climate action is crystal clear.

The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people.

There’s no vaccine for climate change, but we do have solutions.

Last year, WHO published our Manifesto for a healthy and green recovery, calling on all governments to protect nature, support clean energy sources, develop sustainable food systems and healthier cities, and reduce polluting activities.

Together, the six prescriptions of the WHO Manifesto can not only restore resilient economies, they are a lynchpin and essential prerequisite for healthy societies.

At the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow this year, WHO will deliver a special report with recommendations on how to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change, while avoiding the worst health impacts of the climate crisis.

WHO is also spearheading an initiative on promoting climate-resilient health systems, in collaboration with the government of the United Kingdom.

Today it’s my honour to welcome someone who needs no introduction. Over the past few years, Greta Thunberg has become the powerful voice of a younger generation demanding climate action.

Greta’s mobilization of communities, particularly young people, has been truly inspirational, and has brought into sharp focus the impact of the climate crisis on people’s lives, and the urgent need for transformative action.

The awareness she has raised on the links between climate, the environment and health has supported WHO’s agenda in these areas, demonstrated the threats all of us face, and the role young people can play in building a more sustainable, safer, healthier world.

More recently, she has become a powerful advocate for vaccine equity. Tack så mycket, Greta.

Today, Greta has announced a donation of 100 thousand euros from the Greta Thunberg Foundation, to the WHO Foundation in support of COVAX to provide vaccines to people in need.

Greta, thank you – tack så mycket - for your superb advocacy for climate action and now for vaccine equity.

Your contribution to COVAX makes you the youngest person to support it so far.

Welcome, and you have the floor.

[GRETA THUNBERG ADDRESSES THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much, Greta, and thank you for your generosity in donating to the WHO Foundation in support of COVAX – these funds will help save lives.

Around the world, young people have been affected by the pandemic in many ways, from disruptions in education, loss of employment opportunities, mental health challenges and increased domestic and gender-based violence.

WHO is committed to ensuring that the global recovery from COVID-19 includes the voices, energy and ideas of young people.

To do that, we have partnered with an alliance of the six largest youth development organisations in the world to form the Global Youth Mobilization, to empower young people to respond to the challenges created by the pandemic in their local communities.

The Global Youth Mobilization has established a grant mechanism with funds from the Solidarity Response Fund, to support innovative local solutions to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From today, young people around the world will be able to apply for grants of between 500 and 5000 US dollars, through the Global Youth Mobilization.

These local solutions will be judged and decided on by young people, for young people.

To mark the starting point for young people to get involved in the Global Youth Mobilization, a Global Youth Summit will be held virtually from this Friday to Sunday, the 23rd to the 25th of April.

Over three days, thousands of young people, leaders, policy makers and changemakers will come together in one space to discuss the issues facing young people across the world.

On behalf of the “Big Six” youth organizations, the United Nations Foundation and WHO, I invite everyone to join us at the Global Youth Summit.

Today I’m delighted to be joined by representatives from two of the “Big Six” organizations.

First, it’s my honour to welcome Elahi Rawshan, a volunteer with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in Bangladesh.

Elahi, thank you for joining us today. You have the floor.

[ELAHI RAWSHAN ADDRESSES THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much Elahi.

Next it’s my pleasure to introduce Daisy Moran, a representative of the World YMCA, and a board member of the Global Youth Mobilization.

Daisy, thank you for joining us and you have the floor.

[DAISY MORAN ADDRESSES THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much Daisy. By youth, for the youth. Thank you to both of you for your leadership and vision.

I look forward to joining both of you at the World Youth Summit, and I look forward to seeing what ideas we can help take forward through the Global Youth Mobilization.

This is a reminder that although we are all living through a dark time, there are also many reasons for hope and optimism about the future.

Christian, back to you.