The UN Security Council, under the presidency of China this month, has not yet scheduled any meeting to discuss the rapidly-escalating coronavirus crisis even as the number of COVID-19 cases across the world crossed 530,000 and over 24,000 people have died due to the disease.

The number of COVID-19 cases across the globe has skyrocketed to 531,860 and a total of 24,057 people have died so far. At 85,653, the US now has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, surpassing China and Italy. Nearly 13,00 people have died in the US due to the disease. So far, there are 78 confirmed coronavirus cases among UN staff worldwide.

China’s presidency of the 15-nation Council will end on March 31 and no meeting is scheduled on the programme of work of the Security Council for March to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the rapidly deteriorating situation and the outbreak’s dire health, security and economic consequences on nations.

A UN diplomat told PTI that “the silence of the Council on an issue impacting human security in such a profound manner reflects that it is obviously not fit for purpose for the challenges of our times.” The Security Council held a video-conference Thursday chaired by China’s Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun and discussed the work of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

A statement issued by the Chinese Mission to UN after the meeting said that Council members “also expressed concern at the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Libya and called on the parties to de-escalate the fighting urgently, to immediately cease hostilities and to ensure unhindered access of humanitarian aid throughout the country.” There was the only reference to the COVID-19 crisis in the entire statement.

The Dominican Republic will assume the Council Presidency for April. A US State Department official said the Security Council had a unique and important role to play in combating the global coronavirus pandemic that poses major risks to international peace and security.

Earlier this month, as he took over the presidency of the Council, Zhang was asked whether China planned to discuss the coronavirus emergency. He responded that there was no need to panic over the coronavirus epidemic and Beijing dId not plan to discuss the situation in the Council during its presidency, asserting that the world was not far from the defeat of COVID-19 “with the coming of spring.

With regard to the Security Council, at this moment, is the general feeling of Members States, while we watch closely the situation, especially the new development, we do not need to go panicky about that epidemic, Zhang had said. He added that the issue of coronavirus fell within the concept of global public health while the Security Council’s primary responsibility was dealing with the geo-political security and peace matters.

President of the 74th session of the General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande will brief the 193 UN Member States Friday “on the challenges posed by COVID-19 to the work of the Organisation and the activities of its principal organs.” He will be joined by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, United Nations Economic and Social Council President Mona Juul and Zhang.

An NBC News report said that talks among Security Council nations over a joint declaration or resolution on coronavirus remain in stalemate over Washington’s insistence that such a resolution should explicitly state that the virus originated in Wuhan, China, as well as exactly when it started there.

Beijing’s diplomats are enraged at this and even want to put their own language into the statement praising China’s efforts to contain the virus, the NBC report said. A French diplomatic source told PTI that there are different attempts to have a UN text but there is nothing precise for the moment.

The State Department official said that all Security Council members must recognise the threat that China’s mishandling of the outbreak poses to international peace and security.

The official said China had been more interested in saving face than saving lives. The official added that the World Health Organization and Chinese officials themselves had acknowledged that the outbreak began in Hubei Province, and Chinese authorities were the first to learn about it.

As such, they had a special responsibility to be fully transparent about the virus’s spread but instead they suppressed information and punished doctors and journalists who raised the alarm, the official said. The official said while Washington cannot predict how Beijing or Moscow will vote on a UN Security Council resolution, history will take note of countries who fail to take action in a transparent and objective manner for the good of the world for parochial political interests.

This is not the time to bicker but time to rise up to this unprecedented challenge, the official said. The official said the US would support a resolution that underscores the need for sustained and concerted international action to slow the spread of COVID-19.

China’s Mission to the UN tweeted Thursday that COVID19 “is a common enemy of all of us. China is also a victim. China has successfully contained the spreading of the pandemic and is doing its utmost in helping other countries. We will never accept stigma, discrimination or politicization on this issue. Never!”

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