UN chief: Post-coronavirus world will be even more digital

By Mario Villar

United Nations, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- The post-coronavirus world will be different and much more digital than before, the United Nations’ secretary-general said in an interview with Efe.

Antonio Guterres also called for safeguards that ensure the societal control mechanisms developed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic are not abused by dictatorships.

Guterres was emphatic in saying the novel coronavirus will mark a before and after and that this new state of affairs is already being mapped out.

“One thing that’s clear is that we’re seeing the mass digitalization of human relations with the crisis, and that will have an inevitable impact,” the 70-year-old Portuguese politician and diplomat said in a long-distance interview in Spanish.

“The future will be much more digital than the past. This is going to provide a major impetus for the development of artificial intelligence, for the development of all the cyberspace activities,” he added.

The flip side, he cautioned, is that there will be a much greater need to create “regulation and other mechanisms so all that development of the digital world is done for the benefit of humanity and that the risks that exist, and are well known, can be avoided.”

“One of the risks, naturally, is that this illness will create societal control mechanisms that can help dictatorships, which naturally we have to try to avoid in the future,” Guterres said.

Another impact of the fight against the coronavirus, at least in the short term, is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the confinement measures and the abrupt halt to economic activity in many parts of the globe.

In that regard, Guterres said the world must “use this opportunity to provide a very strong push toward sustainable development” and toward meeting the established climate targets, although he stressed that no virus can solve the climate crisis.

In the current battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, the UN secretary-general said what has most concerned him is the lack of coordination he has seen among countries.

(Many nations such as India, France and Italy have essentially shut down public life while others like Sweden and Japan have thus far avoided a crippling lockdown)

He refrained from questioning the responses of individual governments – “for me, it’s very difficult to analyze the measures of each country” – but criticized the fact that each one is acting of its own accord and without “coordination at the global level.”

“If one country takes certain measures and another takes different measures, the virus takes advantage of those contradictions to infiltrate those areas where there’s less capacity to respond,” said Guterres, who warned that some nations are either already facing or will face dramatic ordeals.

In that regard, the UN secretary-general said the global community must realize that the coronavirus thus far has mainly affected wealthier countries like China, South Korea, the European nations and the United States but that this current situation will change.

“We’re seeing its entry into the (Southern Hemisphere) and particularly into Africa, and the capacity of those countries’ health systems to respond is very, very limited,” he warned.

“Without massive support for the countries of the South, we risk seeing the virus advance in an absolutely dramatic way, like wildfire. With millions of people infected and millions dead,” Guterres added.

The UN chief said this would be “an absolutely unbearable tragedy from all perspectives, including from a moral standpoint.”

Developed countries must show solidarity and not forget that it’s in their own interests to eradicate the illness worldwide due to the risk of it returning to their territories.

Referring to the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic and strategies to mitigate the damage, the UN secretary-general called for “direct support” for families and small and medium-sized businesses.

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