World leaders will be allowed to send video messages to the UN General Assembly instead of attending in person in a sign that the annual event is being scaled back again due to Covid-19.
The UN’s 193-nation assembly body agreed on Wednesday to permit pre-recorded video statements from presidents, crown princes and prime ministers at the annual diplomatic gabfest, which begins on September 21 in New York City.
The gathering of leaders is now expected to involve countries sending scaled-down delegations or having mask-wearing diplomats already in New York take the lead due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
A successful vaccination programme has seen life in New York largely return to normal, but the arrival of large delegations from regions with worsening rates of Covid and its more virulent variants is a cause for concern.
“We very much depend on the New York authorities and we’re going to work with them as we have in past [assemblies] to follow their guidelines,” UN spokeswoman Florencia Soto Nino told reporters.
“If the variant gets worse, that is not great for anyone, either here or anywhere else in the world. That could potentially affect any events that have large gatherings.”
Last year’s UN parley was supposed to be a 75th birthday party for the world body, which was created in the aftermath of the Second World War, but it was pared back to mostly pre-recorded video messages from leaders amid the pandemic.
During a regular General Assembly, leaders travel to Manhattan with entourages of sometimes more than 100 aides for a gruelling week of speeches and private meetings, which has been likened to “diplomatic speed-dating”.
Richard Gowan, a UN analyst for the International Crisis Group, posted on social media that “tentative plans for an in-person” UN gathering were “starting to unravel”.