The Turkish diplomat chairing this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) said Tuesday that the international community should commit to multilateralism in the face of the “imminent and common” threat of the novel coronavirus.

Ambassador Volkan Bozkir told the 75th UNGA meetings that the pandemic has affected the ability of world leaders to attend the session in person, pummeled economies and impacted the vulnerable.

“Today, we must leave our differences and disagreements aside. Today, we must renew our collective commitment to multilateralism. Today, we must combine our efforts to address this global problem, and we must make sure that no one is left behind,” he said.

Bozkir warned that xenophobia and racism are on the rise, and violence against members of religious groups and places of worship has been rising.

“We, the peoples of the United Nations can achieve this,” he said and urged a strengthening of efforts by UN agencies, including the World Health Organization, to combat the pandemic.

“We must be prepared, to have tough, honest conversation, about where the multilateral system is failing, or where it is not adapting fast enough, to the ever-evolving challenges we face.

“And we need to act to implement the necessary reforms, to ensure that the UN is fit for purpose, and can deliver the future we want,” he said.

The virus has claimed nearly 966,000 lives in 188 countries and regions since originating in Wuhan, China last December.

More than 31.3 million cases have been reported worldwide with recoveries exceeding 21.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Bozkir argued that the world is witnessing rising levels of mistrust and rivalry between major powers and he said international institutions succeed when they manage to mediate such tensions.

“It is in the interests of the world, our economies and our people that these tensions are managed and do not spiral out of control. The forum provided by the UN is critical to reinforce cooperation and consensus,” he added.

The UNGA president pledged to use his office to highlight the importance of impartial and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid, and it will have full respect for international law, including international humanitarian law in conflicts, and crises.

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