We have all entered 2020 with ambitious plans and hopes, as it marks the beginning of a new decade. Norway is going to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our sectoral dialogue partnership with ASEAN and is seeking a seat on the United National Security Council (UNSC) 2021-2022. Then suddenly appeared the coronavirus.
For three months, this tiny virus has turned the world upside down and caused an unprecedented global crisis. It has frozen international travel, closed borders, paused economic activities and confined people all over the world to their homes. As now, it has hit almost every country be it poor, developing or developed, all segments of our society, infecting over two million people and claiming over 100,000 deaths. Every country is struggling to control and prevent the virus from spreading. We also know that the most vulnerable in our societies, the elderly, the sick, the migrants, the disabled and the poor are at heightened risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UN Secretary General, “the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our lifetime. It is above all a humanitarian crisis with severe health and socio-economic consequences”.
However, the coronavirus has really shown us that the world is interconnected in all aspects, health-wise, socially, economically, that we need to act together. Never before has so much importance been attached to international cooperation and solidarity.
As Norway’s Ambassador to Vietnam, I am very impressed with what the Government of Vietnam has done so far to combat the coronavirus nationally, regionally and internationally. Since the very early stage, you have proactively taken strong actions to isolate and prevent the virus from spreading through information campaigns, medical and administrative measures, such as tracing and testing of people, quarantine arrangements, the closing of schools and the most recent measure of social distancing. These measures seem to be effective as up to now among over 200 infected cases in Vietnam, there are no fatalities. Not only health professionals and caregivers who work days and nights to save people’s lives, but the whole Government of Vietnam seems to make every effort to control the pandemic and to support the affected people and businesses in the spirit of “leave no one behind”.
The pandemic is, of course, challenging Vietnam’s ambitious plans for its ASEAN Chairmanship. However, from what I see, Vietnam has turned the challenge into opportunity. The theme of ASEAN 2020 “Cohesive and Responsive” is reflected in the early Chairman’s Statement on ASEAN Collective Response to the Outbreak of COVID-19. Vietnam has been actively sharing information and encouraging cooperation regarding COVID-19 within the bloc, and just recently took initiative in holding Special ASEAN Summit and Special ASEAN+3 Summit on the COVID-19 response through video conferences, for the first time. All the participating countries in these Summits strongly supported Vietnam’s call for unity, cooperation and action to combat COVID-19 and maintain the connectivity. It is encouraging to see Vietnam, while trying its best to control the spread of COVID-19 domestically, has started to reach out assisting its neighbour countries, ASEAN member States, and partners with medical equipment and facemasks.
It is solidarity in practice!
In Norway, we do have more or less the same experience. Timely, accurate and transparent information sharing from the political leadership and professional health authorities as well as showing international solidarity has been key in getting the trust of the Norwegian people in the joint efforts to combat the COVID-19. This is about our common future!
Norway, like Vietnam, is a staunch supporter of a rule based international order and a multilateral system with a strong United Nations at its core. Multilateralism unites and gets us all together. For a small nation like Norway, it is our best protection. Norway strongly believes that global threats require global responses. Multilateral and regional organisations already in place such as ASEAN, European Union, African Union and in particular UN with WHO in the frontline would and should play a leading role in driving international cooperation and joint efforts to control the COVID-19.
The pandemic hurts everyone, the poor and vulnerable countries will be most affected. Both urgent humanitarian actions and coordinated efforts are more than ever important to mitigate long-term effects. For this reason, Norway took the initiative to propose the establishment of a global trust fund to help vulnerable countries with weak health systems and which might face a devastating social-economic impact of this crisis. It is great to see UN acted so quickly on this initiative. The multi-donor trust fund was launched by UN Secretary General Guterres on 31 March. Norway initially committed NOK 150 million (USD 14.5 million). We do hope that other countries will follow suit. The trust fund will promote a coordinated UN response at country level in support of national governments. At the same time we’re in continuous dialogue with key partners (UN agencies and NGOs) on how Norway´s humanitarian support can be best tailored to the response in areas and sectors where needs are greatest. Un-earmarked funding is key in this regard.
Norway has initiated and supported global health initiatives for decades. Today international researchers are working around the clock at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine to combat the virus - a vaccine that should be made for all and distributed fairly. Recently Norway allocated a further NOK 2.2 billion (USD 209 million) in research funding to CEPI. It comes in addition to the NOK 1.636 billion (USD 156 million) that have previously been announced. It is now vital that we do what we can to enable CEPI to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 as quickly as possible. We all have to pool our resources, make sure of accurate and transparent information sharing and take coordinated, decisive and innovative actions in the spirit of multilateralism and international solidarity to get through this difficult time.
I would like to end by echoing what my Prime Minister Ms. Erna Solberg said “It is not just what we do in our country. It is also what other countries are doing. There’s no way that we can handle this crisis without having a stronger international, multilateral cooperation”. Your Prime Minister Phuc also said, “We will win this together”.