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UN chief Guterres: COVID vaccine 'belongs to the people'

December 18, 2020

In a speech in the German parliament, Guterres urged for countries to ensure the widest possible coronavirus vaccine access, saying it should be considered a "public good."

Antonio Guterres in the Bundestag in Berlin
Guterres told German lawmakers the vaccines should be treated "as a public good"Image: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the German parliament on Friday, praising Germany for its international efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and its efforts to phase out coal, as part of events marking the 75th anniversary of the UN's founding. 

Speaking entirely in German, Guterres touted Germany's financial contributions, which allowed the UN to deliver medical equipment and supplies to 172 countries.

"Our challenge now is to ensure that vaccines are treated as a public good," he said, adding that vaccine "belongs to the people."

He also praised Chancellor Angela Merkel's leadership during the pandemic. "I want to pay tribute to the no-nonsense, steady, compassionate and wise guiding hand of Chancellor Merkel and her government," he said. 

"Studies show that women's leadership  during the pandemic led to more sustainable, inclusive and effective results. Germany proves it." 

The speech marked a rare moment in the Bundestag, as high-ranking foreign officials or other public figures are rarely invited to address members of parliament.

Along with Merkel, the speech was attended by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Stephan Harbarth, the president of Germany's Constitutional Court.

Praise for environmental policy

While the coronavirus pandemic was the focal point of Guterres' Bundestag appearance, he also praised Germany's efforts to phase out coal and adopt more sustainable energy practices. 

"Germany has committed to phasing out coal and is developing proposals for a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and energy efficiency," he said. "We need others to follow this example and help build a global coalition for carbon neutrality."

"In this season of hope, I see seeds of hope," he added. "We can triumph over adversity. Together."

Germany a 'force for peace'

The UN chief also heaped praise on Germany, calling it a "force for peace" which plays a "leading role in the world."

"I see how Germany confronts the greatest challenges of our time," he added.

Guterres pointed to the "great contribution" made by German scientists Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci in developing a COVID-19 vaccine for the Mainz-based pharmaceutical company BioNTech.

At the same time, the secretary general warned of a "virus of disinformation" spreading parallel to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Across the world, we are seeing how populism ignores science and leads people astray. And disinformation, myths and wild conspiracy theories are being propagated," he said, adding that the UN was working to "establish trust in vaccination" based on science.

COVID crisis talks with Merkel

Merkel and Steinmeier are also set to hold talks with Guterres to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and security policy issues. He will meet with Merkel via video chat, and attend a lunch with Steinmeier at the Bellevue Palace. 

As part of his visit to Berlin, Guterres met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Thursday. During their joint press conference, Guterres urged for an equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

"We will not defeat COVID through nationalism, but through international cooperation," the UN chief urged.

UN marks 75th anniversary

The UN Charter was established on October 24,1945, and today 193 countries belong to the international organization.

Germany is one of the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, the UN body devoted to resolving international conflicts. Berlin's two-year term as a Security Council member will end on December 31. 

lc/rs (dpa, AFP)