Coronavirus: UN Security Council to hold first meeting on pandemic

Nine of the 10 non-permanent members have formally requested a meeting, which will take place on Thursday

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 11: The United Nations (UN) Security Council meets to hear from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN in New York on February 11, 2020 in New York City. Abbas used the world body to denounce the US peace plan between Israel and Palestine Donald Trump's proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace, which was released on January 28, has been met with universal Palestinian opposition.   Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP
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The United Nations Security Council will on Thursday hold its first meeting on the coronavirus pandemic – by videoconference – after weeks of divisions among its five permanent members, diplomats said on Monday.

Last week, exasperated by the back-and-forth that has paralysed the council, including between China and the US, nine of the 10 non-permanent members formally requested a meeting that includes a presentation by Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

"Meeting confirmed for Thursday," one diplomat said. It is scheduled to be held behind closed doors at 3.00pm New York time (11pm UAE time).

It's not yet clear what form the meeting will take, or what could be accomplished: will the member nations show unity in the fact of a global crisis and a willingness to co-operate, or proceed with a settling of scores?

The Security Council has been teleworking since March 12 as the new coronavirus spreads rapidly in the city.

Last week, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution calling for "international co-operation" and "multilateralism" in the fight against Covid-19 – the first text to come out of the world body since the outbreak began.

Russia has tried to oppose the text, but only four other countries backed its parallel draft.

The US has long demanded that any meeting or text specify that the virus first emerged in China, to Beijing's consternation.

Diplomats said Monday that opposition to holding a council meeting was coming from the Chinese and the Russians.

Moscow and Beijing say they believe the council should only consider the pandemic when they are talking about a country experiencing conflict, the diplomats said.

According to several diplomats, France been trying since last week to organise a videoconference with leaders of the five permanent member countries to try to iron out differences, and would prefer that is done before a meeting of the 15-member council.

Along with France, the permanent members are Britain, China, Russia and the US.

The nine countries that requested the meeting are Germany, which spearheaded the effort, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Indonesia, Niger, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam.

The last non-permanent member, South Africa, did not support the move, saying the council's remit was peace and security, not health and economic issues.

It's "really irresponsible to block" a council meeting and to "paralyse" the institution since the start of the crisis, a diplomat from one of the nine countries said.