15, March 2020
The spread of the new coronavirus around the world is also taking a toll on international diplomacy at the United Nations (UN) in New York, where mandatory social distancing has caused major disruptions to routine work.
Restrictions at the UN headquarters in downtown Manhattan include mandatory work from home for the majority of the 3,000 employees, and reduced physical participation for diplomats at the Security Council. Several sessions of the Council in the coming week have also been canceled.
The UN Secretariat oversees nearly 100,000 peace-keeping forces at conflict zones around the world, and employees and diplomats routinely discuss a wide variety of world issues at small and large meetings. Significantly reduced staff at the UN offices would therefore translate to sweeping disruptions to work.
“Everything gets a bit more complicated,” said one diplomat working from home, according to AFP, which did not reveal the diplomat’s name.
“We come, but there are fewer and fewer meetings, and consensus is going to be more difficult to achieve,” said one ambassador, whose name was also not mentioned.
On Thursday, a Philippine diplomat tested positive for the new virus, becoming the first case of infection in the UN community and prompting the closing of the Philippines’ mission.
A day later, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres canceled a trip to Africa and required all non-essential employees to telework until April 12.
“The United Nations is facing one of the biggest challenges in our history,” Guterres wrote in a letter to all UN employees obtained by AFP, adding that the virus was having “a major impact on us and our work.”
Diplomatic delegations at the 15-member Security Council should include no more than three people. And a recent attempt to hold a meeting of the Council by teleconference also failed due to technological shortcomings.
Self-service in the cafeterias in the building has also been recently banned.
The near-empty hallways of the vast complex have the feel of a “ghost town,” according to one guard at a checkpoint in the building.
The new virus from the coronavirus family first emerged in China’s Wuhan City in December last year. Since then, it has spread across the world, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic.