My 2020 Podcast: UN's Melissa Fleming on the 'silent war' that emptied the General Assembly

Undersecretary General for Global Communications at the UN in conversation with 'The National' for a new series speaking to leaders on how their lives and industries were changed by Covid-19

As the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic became evident, plans and events were cancelled or postponed around the world.

The Olympics and Dubai Expo are only two examples of the postponements in 2020. One major milestone the world was meant to celebrate was the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN. World leaders were slated to descend upon New York to mark the important occasion. Instead, travel was halted and heads of state gave their brief pre-recorded speeches to a largely empty General Assembly Hall.

The UN headquarters has been empty of diplomats and officials for months now, as New York is one of the cities hit hardest by Covid-19.

“It was like a silent war that was coming in and just wreaking havoc everywhere. We were dealing with a global crisis for the first time really the Second World War and since the founding of the United Nations. A crisis that was really affecting everyone everywhere”. That is how Melissa Fleming, Undersecretary General for Global Communications at the UN, described New York in 2020.

Mrs Fleming spoke to The National of the role of the international organisation as a guest of the "My 2020" podcast.

Global co-operation is needed to tackle the challenges brought about by the pandemic. In addition to combatting the health and economic fallout from Covid-19, the UN has declared an “infodemic” that must be tackled. Mrs Fleming said that disinformation and fake news "in a public health crisis, is public harm. It makes people anxious, it leads them astray". The UN has launched an initiative called "Verified" to face this infodemic.

Next year, a major task for the UN and governments will be getting Covid-19 vaccines to people around the world – a logistical and resource challenge, complicated by disinformation campaigns against vaccines. Mrs Fleming warned: "We need to make sure that everybody has access, and even if it's only in our enlightened self-interest, you know, nobody is safe until everybody is safe."

"My 2020" is a seven-part series, hosted by Mina Al-Oraibi, The National's Editor-in-Chief, speaking to leaders on how their lives and industries have been changed by Covid-19.