UNITED NATIONS, (IDN) — The United Nations, perhaps never in its 76-year history, has held a General Assembly session characterised by risks that could trigger the spread of a deadly disease in a city where Covid-19 Delta variant infections are on the rise. In a letter to the 192 UN missions, the United States has [...]

Sunday Times 2

UN session, with over 110 world leaders, may be a ‘super spreader’ covid event, warns US


UNITED NATIONS, (IDN) — The United Nations, perhaps never in its 76-year history, has held a General Assembly session characterised by risks that could trigger the spread of a deadly disease in a city where Covid-19 Delta variant infections are on the rise.

In a letter to the 192 UN missions, the United States has warned it does not want the upcoming sessions, beginning September 21, where more than 110 world leaders, foreign ministers and visiting delegations are expected to participate, to be a “super spreader” of Covid-19.

The letter says: “The United States, as the host country of the UN Headquarters, bears a significant responsibility and we need your support to prevent UNGA 76 High-Level Week from being a super-spreader event”.

Masked staffers at the podium of the UN General Assembly last year. Pic United Nations

The COVID-19 pandemic “continues to pose a significant health risk around the world, with the Delta variant necessitating enhanced mitigation measures given its virulence among fully vaccinated and unvaccinated persons alike.”

Cases and hospitalisations are increasing significantly in the US, says the letter, addressed to heads of UN missions.

“All counties in New York City are currently rated as having the highest level of community transmission. We must continue to make every effort to protect health infrastructure here and abroad.”

But the crucial dilemma facing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is that he has “limited authority” on mandating Heads of States and delegations to get vaccinated before they enter the UN building.

That’s a mandate that could only be part of a resolution adopted by the 193-member General Assembly, even though the current President has already issued a warning.

On September 15, New York city Mayor Bill di Blasio said the city will be opening “a pop-up testing and vaccination site at UN headquarters next week and provide free COVID-19 tests, as well as the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccines” which will be made available to all visiting heads of state, delegations and even UN staffers based in New York.

But, according to diplomatic protocol, no one can compel a head of state or head of government to vaccinate before entering the UN building.

In a joint statement with International Affairs Commissioner Penny Abeywardena, de Blasio thanked the General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives for taking the critical step of “requiring proof of vaccination” for those entering the Assembly hall during next week’s High-Level meeting which continues through the end of September.

But there could be problems of logistics in implementing this decision.

As an alternative, the President will depend on a “honour system” where no head of state or delegations will enter the building without vaccinations – or even masks. Both will be voluntary, not mandatory gestures.

According to a Cable News Network (CNN) report on September 16, one in 500 Americans have died from coronavirus since the nation’s first reported infection. The US population now stands at an estimated 333 million.

The number of confirmed cases in New York city is over 1.0 million, with more than 34,000 deaths.

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “We have taken a number of mitigation measures from the Secretariat point of view, smaller footprint, mandatory maskwearing, mandatory vaccination for staff, etc., and also limiting the delegation size to 1+3 in the GA Hall to ensure that the highlevel meeting is as safe as possible”.

There was a pilot project under the previous General Assembly President and it basically said that, by swiping a badge to enter the GA Hall, delegates attest that they are fully vaccinated, that they have not tested positive for COVID19 in the last ten days and have no symptoms.

“We’re working with the current President of the General Assembly on continuing this honour system in an appropriate and acceptable way for all concerned.”

“And, obviously, I think it bears repeating that we are cooperating… we have cooperated with the host country and the host city on these matters and will continue to be discussing these matters with them. We fully expect to find appropriate solutions consistent with our respective requirements and status”.

Asked if Guterres will take a risk of shaking hands with all political leaders, Dujarric said: “I think he will greet them in the appropriate COVID manner, as you will see it from all the photo ops.”

Meanwhile, the US Mission, in its letter, also discourages all face-to-face bilateral meetings which were a staple of former General Assembly sessions.

The letter from the US Mission says: “We know the UN Secretariat has already communicated some modalities for High-Level Week, but the United States needs to make clear our call, as the host country, for all UN-hosted meetings and side events, beyond the General Debate, to be fully virtual.”

Parallel meetings and high-level events drawing travellers to New York needlessly increase risk to our community, New Yorkers, and the other travellers.

In light of current health concerns, heads of delegation should consider delivering their statements to the UN General Assembly’s General Debate by video.

If delegations choose to travel to New York for the General Debate, the US requests delegations bring the minimum number of travellers necessary.

In addition to these restrictions, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended mandatory mask use by all persons in UN Headquarters, social distancing (six feet), fixed seating, confirmed negative COVID-19 status to enter UN Headquarters, and, if possible, vaccination.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.