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U.N. urges cease-fire as cases near 400,000

The U.N. chief called for a global cease-fire to help vanquish the pandemic, imploring warring parties to disarm and fight the virus as a "common enemy."

WASHINGTON (AN) — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global cease-fire on Monday to help vanquish the COVID-19 pandemic, imploring warring parties to disarm and fight the virus as a "common enemy."

The urgency of the U.N. chief's appeal was underscored by the surging numbers in confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, which rose to more than 378,000 accompanied by over 16,o00 deaths, according to two separate Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers.

"The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly. Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world," Guterres said in a statement.

"That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global cease-fire in all corners of the world," he said. "It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives."

It took two months for the global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to reach 100,000 on March 7, and just two more weeks to get to 200,000. The total rose to 300,000 only four days later, a clear signal the pandemic is accelerating, the World Health Organization said. At this pace, the number of cases is on track to hit 400,000 within a day or so.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said social distancing alone will not stop the pandemic. He called it “heartbreaking” that the virus has now spread to virtually all the world's nations.

"Asking people to stay at home and other physical distancing measures are an important way of slowing down the spread of the virus and buying time — but they are defensive measures," he said. "You can't win a football game only by defending. You have to attack as well."

Guterres said women and children, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations pay the highest price in wartime, and they also are at the highest risk from the global coronavirus outbreak.

"Let’s not forget that in war-ravaged countries, health systems have collapsed," he said. "Health professionals, already few in number, have often been targeted. Refugees and others displaced by violent conflict are doubly vulnerable. The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war."

1.5 billion social distancing

The number of new or suspected coronavirus cases has subsided in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the global pandemic was first detected, according to Chinese officials, who have reported more than 81,000 confirmed cases and 3,270 deaths.

WHO officials have praised China as transparent and collaborative in its approach to dealing with the novel coronavirus outbreak, saying Chinese officials have shared information with the international community since late December including the genetic sequence of the new virus on January 12. But some investigative reports by journalists and citizen-journalists in China have cast doubt on the transparency of those numbers.

The reports have revealed how local authorities in Wuhan participated in a nearly monthlong cover-up that slowed information about the new virus by threatening or silencing whistleblower doctors and hiding transmission of the virus between people.

In contrast, the reported numbers are exploding in Europe and the United States, where officials have been scrambling to set up facilities and impose new limits on interaction.

Among the top 10 nations, the next most cases were reported in Italy, which has been devastated by 63,900 cases and 6,000 deaths, and the United States, hit by 42,000 cases and 570 deaths, including 100 on Monday alone — the first day of triple-digit fatalities.

The next highest numbers were seen in Spain, Germany, Iran, France, South Korea, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Globally, some 1.5 billion people, or a fifth of the world's population, have been told to stay home to keep the virus from spreading. Authorities in Europe and the United States are desperately seeking more facial masks, ventilators and other critical medical equipment.

Tedros called for collaboration to keep people safe. "To win," he said, "we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics — testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and tracing and quarantining every close contact."

Guterres said it also would help greatly if warring parties pulled back from fighting, set aside their mistrust and hatred, and created corridors for life-saving aid.

"Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes," he said. "Let us take inspiration from coalitions and dialogue slowly taking shape among rival parties in some parts to enable joint approaches to COVID-19. But we need much more. End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now."