United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned that the coronavirus outbreak could turn into a human rights crisis as it could give some countries an excuse to adopt repressive measures for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, Reuters reported.

The UN chief said in a video message that there is discrimination in the delivery of public services to tackle Covid-19 and there are “structural inequalities that impede access to them”.

Guterres released a United Nations report on how human rights of every individual should guide countries’ response to the health, social and economic crisis the world currently faces.

“We see the disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response,” Guterres said. “While the virus does not discriminate, its impacts do.”

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According to the report, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people are particularly vulnerable. It added that more than 131 countries have closed their borders, with only 30 among them allowing exemptions for those who seek asylum.

“Against the background of rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic,” Guterres said. “This is unacceptable.”

The United Nations report said the pandemic was creating further hardship that “if not mitigated, will raise tension and could provoke civil unrest”. This in turn could spark a “heavy-handed security response”, it added.

Guterres said any emergency measures, including states of emergency, must be “legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health”.

“Emergency powers may be needed but broad executive powers, swiftly granted with minimal oversight, carry risks,” the report warned. “Heavy-handed security responses undermine the health response and can exacerbate existing threats to peace and security or create new ones.”

Guterres urged governments to be “transparent, responsive and accountable”. Civic space and press freedom, he said, are critical to the global response to the pandemic. “The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law,” he added. “In all we do, let’s never forget: The threat is the virus, not people.”

Globally, the toll from the pandemic crossed 1.83 lakh and more than 26.2 lakh declared cases have been registered in 185 countries and territories, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.