U.N. chief recommends ministers, diplomats skip traveling to meeting due to coronavirus risks

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a news conference after the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020. Michael Kappeler/Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has recommended that ministers and diplomats skip traveling to a meeting in New York of the Commission on the Status of Women due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Friday.

More than 7,000 people usually attend the annual meeting, officials said, which is dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. It is due to be held from March 9 to 20.

However, in a letter to U.N. member states from the chair of the commission, Armenia’s U.N. Ambassador Mher Margaryan said Guterres had recommended that member states “shorten and scale down the session” and cancel dozens of side events.

“He also strongly recommended that capital-based representatives refrain from traveling to headquarters for the session,” Margaryan wrote.

The bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women proposed that member states agree to Guterres’ recommendations at a meeting on Monday.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres made the recommendations given the “fast-evolving situation” with the coronavirus and the need to “balance the UN’s critical work and public health concerns”.

“The advice given by the secretary-general is based on inputs from the Senior Emergency Policy Team and very close consultations between the U.N. Medical Services and the World Health Organization,” Dujarric said.

The flu-like virus that emerged from central China late last year has spread to about 60 countries, infected more than 85,000 people and killed almost 3,000, mostly in China.

(This story has been refiled to add dropped words in headline, first paragraph)

Reporting by Michelle Nichols in Washington; Editing by Stephen Coates