Amid the surging Delta variant of COVID-19, the US has urged world leaders to deliver their statements to the UN General Assembly’s annual session next month by video, instead of travelling to New York, to ensure that the high-level week doesn’t become a “super-spreader event”.

The UN General Debate begins on September 21 and will run through September 27. According to the first provisional list of speakers for the General Debate at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly released by the UN, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to address the annual UN General Assembly session in-person on September 25.

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US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield wrote a letter to the 193 member states of the UN that as the host country of the UN headquarters, her country bears a “significant responsibility” to ensure the safety of participants and New York residents.

“So too does the Secretariat and President of the General Assembly. We need your help to prevent UNGA 76 High-Level Week from being a super-spreader event,” she wrote in the letter last week, seen by PTI.

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Thomas-Greenfield noted with concern that 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.

With cases and hospitalisations increasing significantly in the US and all counties in New York City currently rated as having the highest level of community transmission, she said, “In light of current health concerns, we will convey to all member states and observers that heads of delegation should consider delivering their statements to the UN General Assembly’s General Debate by video.” In case delegations choose to travel to New York for the General Debate, the US requested that delegations bring the minimum number of travellers necessary.

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US President Joe Biden is scheduled to address the session in-person, his first address to the world organisation as the American leader.

As per the first provisional list of speakers, so far 167 Heads of State and Heads of Government and 29 Ministers and diplomats are scheduled to address the UN General Debate. About 40 leaders are listed to address the high-level session through pre-recorded statements, including Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa and Nepal.

The 76th session of the UN General Assembly will begin September 14. Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid will be President of the year-long session.

The US is also categorically telling member states that apart from the General Debate, when global leaders address the world organisation, all other high-level events, including those held on the sidelines, should be held virtually.

Thomas-Greenfield said while the UN Secretariat has already communicated some modalities for the high-level week, “I want 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 increases risk to the community, New Yorkers and other travellers, she said.

“I am particularly concerned regarding the possibility of the UN, through the auspices of the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, hosting several in-person high level events during high-level week — possibly to include events on climate change, vaccines, the 20th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the Food Systems Summit, and the high-level dialogue on Energy.

“We feel strongly that the General Debate should be the only event held with in-person participation during High-Level Week; the United States is willing to make every effort to make these important events on shared priorities successful in a virtual format,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

She said with a view to ensure safety of UNGA participants and New York residents, the US will significantly limit its in-person delegation travelling to New York and Washington encourages other member states to do the same.

“We must each do our part in reducing the number of activities that would draw travellers to New York City at this time,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Last year, world leaders had submitted pre-recorded video statements for the United Nations General Assembly session in September, as heads of state and government could not physically attend the annual gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first time in the UN’s 75-year history that the high-level session had gone virtual.