The coronavirus pandemic not only affects the fight against poverty and peace-building measures but also worsens existing conflicts and creates new ones, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday, Associated Press reported.

Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on the challenges of maintaining peace during the Covid-19 outbreak, Guterres said that his call on March 23 for a ceasefire was acted upon by many parties, leading to a de-escalation of tension and conflict. However, the UN chief said, many nations did not “suspend hostilities or agree to a permanent ceasefire.”

The pandemic has also raised doubts on the effectiveness of governance systems, social services, health systems and public trust in institutions, the UN chief said. “All of this means that our commitment to sustaining peace is more urgent than ever,” he said. “Without concerted action, inequalities, global poverty and the potential for instability, violence could grow for years.”

Guterres added that many countries have exploited the pandemic to crackdown on peaceful protests. “The perception that authorities are mishandling the crisis, or not being transparent or favouring political allies can lead to public disillusion in government and its institutions.”

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was also at the meeting, said, “It is truly astonishing that in response to this pandemic, the world has placed billions of people under lockdown, closed international borders, suspended trade and migration, and temporarily shut down a whole variety of industries – but has not managed to suspend armed conflicts.”

Ban also criticised the UN Security Council for waiting till July 1 to adopt a resolution on the “immediate cessation of hostilities” in various conflict zones including Syria, Congo and Libya, to contain the coronavirus spread. The council had argued for months over details of the text, he added. The delayed action resulted in further flaring up the existing “volatile global security situations,” he said.

Ban also agreed with Guterres that many were taking advantage of the pandemic to indulge in violence. He, however, said that while the government was working to contain the virus, groups such as the Boko Haram, Nigerian militants and Mexican cartels had ramped up violence and killed many people.

The coronavirus crisis will affect many “fragile and conflict-affected” nations economically and have a long-lasting effect, Ban pointed out.

Ban then cited Lebanon and Iraq as examples. While the budget of Iraq has suffered due to falling oil prices, Lebanon’s economic and political crisis has been aggravated by the recent twin blasts in Beirut that left more than 220 dead. Lebanon’s booming sectors of tourism and trade have also been impacted by the blasts and the coronavirus crisis. On August 10, Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab had announced the resignation of his government as protests and international outrage mounted.

Globally, coronavirus has infected more than 2.04 crore people, according to the Johns Hopkins University. The worldwide toll has risen to 7,47,845. More than 1.27 crore people have recovered.