Under virus strain, Europe's leaders plead at UN for unity

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In this photo provided by the United Nations, European Council President Charles Michel speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. (Evan Schneider/UN Photo via AP)

PARIS – Struggling to contain resurgent virus infections, European leaders decried a collective failure to vanquish the pandemic and told the U.N. General Assembly on Friday that the time has come for countries to reinvent international cooperation.

This year’s unusual work-from-home General Assembly — with leaders communicating only in prerecorded speeches — comes as COVID-19 cases escalate in many regions but especially in Europe, where some of the world's most advanced hospitals in some of the world’s richest countries are again under strain.

“This emergency has, more than a thousand treaties or speeches, made us suddenly realize that we are part of one single world,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

The pandemic “has also revealed the fragility of countries that thought they were strong. It has thrown us all into the same sudden battle, against the same common enemy,” EU Council President Charles Michel said.

And it has exposed weaknesses within the European Union, which like the U.N. was founded on the ashes of World War II to avert new conflict and encourage cooperation — cooperation that was in short supply this year. The EU has fought internally about access to equipment and vaccines, erected barriers among neighbors to keep out virus infections, and struggled to agree on collective solutions to fight COVID.

Italy’s prime minister, whose country became a global symbol of the crisis as the first in the West to face a vast wave of infections, said the pandemic should offer world governments “the opportunity for collective renewal.”

“This tragedy has changed us, but has also offered us the opportunity for a new beginning that is up to us to seize," Giuseppe Conte said.

Worldwide, the confirmed COVID-19 death toll is nearing 1 million, though experts believe the real toll is likely higher. In times of global crisis, Europe’s rich governments are often looked to for financial and material aid for poorer ones. But this time, they’re preoccupied with troubles of their own.