United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for countries to "put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives"

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed Monday for an “immediate global ceasefire” to protect vulnerable civilians in conflict zones from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said in a brief speech at UN headquarters in New York, mentioning no country by name. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.”

Syria has reported its first case of the COVID-19 virus, in a country already torn by 10 years of war, and other cases have emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

Experts and diplomats expect the virus to wreak havoc in countries in conflict, which often are very poor and with fragile health care systems.

“It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Guterres said. “Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.”

Doing so, he said, was crucial for opening corridors to deliver life-saving aid.

“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now,” he said.

“If the fighting goes on, we might have an absolutely devastating spreading of the epidemic.”

After Guterres’ call last week for a global response to the pandemic, which he said has put “millions” of lives at risk, the United Nations is expected to unveil on Wednesday a detailed worldwide plan for humanitarian relief, with the creation of a fund dedicated to the international fight against the coronavirus.

Risk of coronavirus infection: refugees and migrants in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos

He said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration were working to mitigate the impact of the virus spreading to refugee camps and settlements with large numbers of refugees.

The UN will seek $2 billion as part of the global plan, he said, and is asking the G20 leading governments to help coordinate the response.

“It is clear that we need a much stronger coordination in suppression of the disease and coordination in making sure that not only the developed countries can respond effectively to the disease, but that there is massive support to the developing world,” Guterres said.

He said it was a response to a “human crisis,” different from the efforts in the 2008 global financial crisis to simply reinflate economies.

The UN-backed package “needs to… keep societies afloat in these very difficult circumstances,” he added.