After more than two years of pandemic disruptions of Covid-19, the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly is back at its peak this week.
But already on Tuesday, organizers were vying with masked delegates, who were at odds with the event’s entry requirements. Security officials tried to intercept attendees on the escalator without masks, and inside the assembly hall, a few people were wearing masks.
Tens of thousands of people from around the world – from heads of state to government delegations, civil society, activists and the media – descend on the United Nations headquarters in midtown Manhattan.
“We are very pleased to have a high-level week of the General Assembly in person after two years,” said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. “Personal diplomacy is central to what the meeting is about.”
In 2020, the annual gathering was held virtually with leaders delivering pre-recorded speeches. This was the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations that in-person attendance was cancelled.
Last year, the format was a mixture of in-person attendance and pre-recorded speeches depending on what each country preferred.
So, how can regulators mitigate the risk that the diplomatic whirlwind will not turn into a super-spreading event? The United Nations takes some precautions and enforces some rules.
The number of people allowed into the UN Headquarters building is restricted and everyone is required to wear a mask in all public places. Journalists are required to be vaccinated and to carry proof of vaccination.
The United Nations is asking anyone who has been exposed to the virus in the past five days, feels sick or has tested positive to stay at home.
The maximum number of people each Member State can bring inside the building is 10 people. States can bring up to six members inside the General Assembly Hall where leaders give speeches from Tuesday to Sunday, and another four can accompany them inside the building.
Before the pandemic, UN headquarters hosted dozens of side events each day, attracting celebrities and experts in fields from science to women’s rights to press freedom.
This year, those events have been scaled down to less than 20 and focused on more pressing issues such as climate, food insecurity, pandemic response, and education.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will only attend the events at Headquarters, but he keeps a full schedule of bilateral meetings with world leaders.
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