“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect us all. Even though we have seen that the rate of increase is slowing down in some countries, the illness continues to take a terrible toll.
I want to begin by expressing my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones. And my deep thanks to the heroic health workers and all the others on the front lines.
Tomorrow, I will chair an extraordinary meeting of Defence Ministers by secure video conference. We have just one issue on the agenda: the COVID-19 crisis. Defence Ministers will review the actions NATO and Allies are taking and decide on the next steps.
NATO has been responding since the beginning of the crisis. Implementing preventive measures, assuring the continuation of our operations and assisting Allies in combating the virus. NATO Foreign Ministers met two weeks ago. They asked our top military commander, SACEUR, to set up a task force to step up and speed up military support to allies in response to the pandemic. NATO Allies are cooperating to airlift critical supplies from across the globe: hundreds of tons of medical equipment have been donated and delivered. Allies are sharing medical expertise, and spare hospital capacity.
Let me give you just a few examples from the past few days:
· The Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Turkey and the United States have sent medical and financial support to our newest Ally, North Macedonia;
· NATO’s disaster response centre has facilitated Denmark’s delivery of ventilators and a field hospital to Italy, and Germany’s delivery of ventilators to Spain;
· Turkey has delivered medical supplies to Allies and partners across the Balkans, following similar deliveries to Italy and Spain;
· For the first time, the unique NATO call sign has been used to facilitate the delivery of aid from Turkey to the United Kingdom;
· Luxembourg has donated protective equipment material to Spain;
· Allied strategic airlift has brought crucial supplies to Allies including Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
· US military forces stationed in Europe have been directed to provide support to Allies as part of this joint NATO effort.
· And we are working to deliver innovative solutions, including 3D-printed respirators.
Allied armed forces are also providing essential support to civilian responses in our nations including with logistics and planning, field hospitals and hospital ships, transport for patients, repatriation of citizens abroad, disinfection of public areas, and at border crossings. So our Alliance is helping to get the right support to the right places at the right time: helping our nations save lives.
NATO’s core task remains to preserve the security of our almost 1 billion citizens. We must continue to work hard to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis and that we are better prepared when the next crisis comes.
The coronavirus crisis has shaken us all. And it will have far-reaching consequences for how we think about security, and about national resilience. Tomorrow, we will also address how to maintain NATO’s deterrence and defence and sustain our missions and operations throughout the pandemic. Our forces remain ready, and our work goes on. From our battlegroups in Eastern Europe to our air policing and maritime deployments. And from Afghanistan to Kosovo.
Finally, we will address the importance of countering disinformation. We have seen state and non-state actors try to take advantage of the pandemic to spread false and harmful narratives. And to try to divide us.So Allies need to work closely together to identify, monitor and expose these efforts. An open and transparent press is the best bulwark against disinformation and propaganda.
The challenges posed by COVID-19 know no borders. And we are stronger and safer when we work with our partners. So, we will be joined tomorrow by our partners Finland and Sweden, as well as EU High Representative Borrell.
NATO is committed to learning the right lessons so that we can all emerge stronger. And as determined as ever to protect our people and our nations.”