REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria.
Tropical storm Eloise
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the United Nations was on the ground and supporting the national disaster response in Mozambique, where Tropical Cyclone Eloise had made landfall on Saturday, killing at least six people and injuring 12. More than 176,000 people had been affected by the cyclone, including more than 8,300 displaced. Thirty-two accommodation centres had been opened in heavily affected Sofala province, including in Beira city. People in the centres were receiving assistance from the Mozambican authorities, and the United Nations was delivering food, health care and sanitation and promoting good hygiene practices to prevent COVID-19 transmissions.
The cyclone had destroyed, damaged or flooded more than 8,800 houses and at least 26 health centres. Large areas of crops had been flooded, raising concern for the annual harvest expected in April. The most urgent humanitarian needs included food, tents, drinking water, hygiene kits, COVID-19 prevention materials, mosquito nets and blankets. As humanitarian partners had already been responding to multiple needs in Mozambique, including the conflict in Cabo Delgado in the north and the recent impact of Tropical Storm Chalane, more resources were urgently needed to ensure a quick scale-up in response to Tropical Cyclone Eloise and to avoid having to choose one response over the other.
Zimbabwe, South Africa and Eswatini had also been impacted by heavy rains, localized flooding and mudslides. Widespread rainfall was expected in Botswana in the coming days.
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that, in order to quickly have a full picture of the extent of the damage, WFP was supporting both ground and aerial assessments undertaken with drones. Early indications were that the storm had further aggravated the precarious food security situation in Sofala province. January to March was the peak of the lean season, when people most struggled to find food. The latest statistics from the IPC Acute Food Insecurity and Acute Malnutrition Analysis indicated that over 2.9 million people were facing high levels of food insecurity in rural and urban areas in southern, central and northern provinces. A total of 640 metric tons of food was available in WFP’s central warehouse in Beira city, which could be trucked to affected areas across Sofala province and in the southern hub in Maputo. As those resources were originally for WFP’s ongoing lean season response, more resources would be urgently needed to ensure an adequate and timely response.
Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said residents of Beira were navigating streets waist deep in flood waters and littered with debris. Churches, mosques and some government buildings were sheltering hundreds of displaced families. Many were reporting having lost farming tools and seed, raising questions about food security in the future. IOM’s 160 staff in the area had been working closely with the Government of Mozambique, United Nations and other humanitarian partners since the morning after the storm to ensure a coordinated response. IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix assessments indicated that more than half of the 71 resettlement centres where people displaced by Cyclone Idai in 2019 resided were in affected areas with restricted access due to flooding. IOM staff were distributing soap and a limited supply of cloth face masks to the most vulnerable and providing further information about the need to maintain physical distancing. IOM health staff were very concerned for chronic disease patients who had lost their medication in the cyclone. IOM was monitoring the accommodation centres in order to refer cases to health facilitates, although many of those had been damaged. There were also many cases of malaria due to the rainy season.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Dr. Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that the clinical care guidelines on COVID-19 had been updated and would be available online shortly. The main new recommendations related to people with persistent symptoms beyond the average of two to eight weeks, including neurological and heart symptoms. Other recommendations were that: at-home patients should have the use of pulse oximetry to identify deteriorating cases that required hospitalization; awake prone positioning should be used in severe cases requiring ventilation to improve oxygen flow; low-dose anticoagulants should be administered to hospitalized patients; and medical decisions should be taken by the health-care professionals directly involved rather than on the basis of models.
Replying to questions from journalists, Dr. Harris said WHO experts conducting the mission to China would finish their quarantine in two days, at which time information would be available about next steps. The potential for the virus to change had been a deep concern from the start of the pandemic, which was why a large expert group on virus evolution had been created. Nevertheless, so far, there was no definitive evidence of a serious change other than in the level of transmissibility. WHO wished to see the vaccine distributed in every country of the world within the first 100 days of 2021 and health-care workers and older persons be vaccinated as a matter of priority. While the currently available vaccines had been tested on the basis of a 21-day period between the first and second doses, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization had stated that, in exceptional cases, the gap could be extended up to six weeks, though no longer. It was very common for candidate products to be pulled; only 10 per cent of them made it through the entire process and into humans.
Jenifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, said the fifth session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body had convened in Geneva on Monday, as scheduled. The meetings were planned to continue until Friday, 29 January, and the Committee members would be discussing the basic principles of the Constitution. The Special Envoy would brief the media on Friday.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said the universal periodic review would continue throughout that week. The human rights situation in Georgia was being reviewed that morning and, in the afternoon, the UPR Working Group would adopt its reports on its reviews of Nepal, Oman and Austria.
The Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting that morning, still under the presidency of Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve of Belgium.
Mr. LeBlanc added that, as announced last week by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the one-week submission period of candidacies for the positions in the three-member Presidency Council and of Prime Minister was under way until the end of this week. UNSMIL would then convene the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum for a vote, to be held in Switzerland during the week of 1–5 February.
The eighty-fifth session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child was under way virtually and, given the current situation, would not include any State party reviews. The next public meeting would be in the afternoon of Thursday, 4 February, for the closure of the session.
In response to recent questions about the investigation related to the former Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. LeBlanc said the five investigation reports concerning senior managers had raised issues to be addressed through the Secretariat or UNRWA accountability frameworks. Accountability actions, to the extent appropriate and available, had been taken, and the matters were closed. The findings of the reports that were management related did not rise to the level of fraud or misappropriation of funds. In accordance with General Assembly resolution 59/272, the investigation reports of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) relating to the former UNRWA management had been provided to Member States. Member States that had requested such information from OIOS could do so now or in the future. Further information on the availability of OIOS reports could be found at https://oios.un.org/content/reporting.
On 26 January at 12.30 p.m., there would be a virtual press conference of the World Health Organization, at which the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) would present its interim recommendations on the use of the Moderna COVID-19 (mRNA-1273) vaccine. Speakers would include Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, Chair, Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization; Dr. Joachim Hombach, Executive Secretary SAGE; and Dr. Kate O’Brien, Director, Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals.
Also on 26 January, at 2 p.m., there would be a virtual press conference of the United Nations Development Programme on the launch of its report on the world’s largest survey of public opinion on climate change, which was under embargo until Wednesday, 27 January at 6:01 a.m. CET. The speaker would be Cassie Flynn, UNDP Climate Advisor.
On 27 January at 10:30 a.m., there would be a virtual press conference of the United Nations Refugee Agency on the release of its strategy and appeal for refugees on routes towards the western and central Mediterranean. Speakers would include Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the central and western Mediterranean situation; Alessandra Morelli, Representative, UNHCR Niger; and Jean Paul Cavalieri, Chief of Mission, UNHCR Libya.
Finally, Mr. LeBlanc recalled that the official Holocaust commemoration ceremony would take place at the Palais des Nations at noon, on 27 January, and would be webcast live at webtv.un.org and on Facebook Live (@UNGeneva). In that connection, he drew attention to the Secretary-General’s message, which referred to the pandemic’s effects on minorities. The Secretary-General said “we must address the fragilities and gaps exposed by the pandemic and strengthen our mutual bonds, based on our common humanity”. The Ciné-ONU screening of the documentary “The Albanian Code” would be held today at 5 p.m., followed by a discussion, and the innovative video project featuring interactive biographies of survivors on the exterior walls of the Beth Yaacov Great Synagogue of Geneva would run until 31 January.
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