Coronavirus: UN chief extends telecommuting at world body’s headquarters until July 31

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has extended the telecommuting arrangements at the world body’s headquarters in New York until July 31 in view of the social distancing measures and restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that the UN premises will be re-opened for diplomats, staff and journalists in four phases.

Antonio Guterres, in a letter to the UN staff members on Saturday, said that after consulting with the senior management and “our medical services regarding the coronavirus situation, I have decided to extend the current telecommuting arrangements at the headquarters complex through July 31, 2020.

“We will continue to review these arrangements and will provide advance notice should there be any easing or further extension of these measures”.

According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the contagion has infected over 77,00,000 people and killed more than 4,30,000 across the world. The US is the worst affected country with over 2.07 million cases and more than 1,15,000 deaths.

The COVID-19, which originated in China’s Wuhan city in December last year, has also battered the world economy with the International Monetary Fund saying that the global economy is bound to suffer a “severe recession”.

Scientists are racing against time to find a vaccine or medicine for its treatment.

Telecommuting was implemented at the UN headquarters from March 16 as the COVID-19 cases were increasing steadily in the state and the arrangements have been extended periodically, keeping in mind the coronavirus situation on ground.

New York has finally turned the tide and is now reporting record low number of hospitaliSations, daily infections and deaths.

Guterres said that the personnel are actively preparing the UN buildings for a return in four phases.

During the current phase (Phase Zero), the aim is to keep the footprint at the headquarters complex below 200 people – staff and delegates.

The Department of Operational Support is doing a deep cleaning of the premises, placing signage around the buildings to guide staff on physical distancing and making other arrangements to lower the exposure risk for returning personnel and delegates, which is envisaged to start in Phase Two when the UN gradually moves from 10 to 40 per cent occupancy.

While a date for Phase One has not yet been set, Guterres said that during the first phase, only those functions that need to be performed on site will be allowed and the vast majority of staff will continue to telecommute.

In this phase, not more than 400 people would be allowed at the headquarters complex on any given day, and physical distancing will be strictly enforced for common spaces.

The UNGA is gearing to conduct elections for the President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, non-permanent members of the Security Council and election of members of the Economic and Social Council, and has put in place special voting arrangements.

The elections will be held simultaneously on June 17 from 9:00 AM (local time) in the General Assembly Hall. Eight time slots have been allocated to member states to cast their ballots in the General Assembly Hall, in adherence to the social distancing guidelines.

UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande has also recommended that Heads of State and Government and Ministers address the high-level General Assembly session in September through pre-recorded video statements as COVID-19-related restrictions on international travel and large in-person meetings are likely to be in place in the coming months.

In a communication to the 193 UN member states last week, Muhammad-Bande said that the General Assembly should consider holding the General Debate and other meetings scheduled for the high-level week of the 75th session of the General Assembly “in a different format” since limitations on international travel and convening of large in-person meetings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, may, in varying degrees, still be in effect in September.

The new format will mean that it will be for the first time in the world organisation’s 75-year history that Heads of State and Government will not gather here for the high-level week.

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