U.S. to world leaders: Stop U.N. becoming COVID 'super-spreader'

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses the United Nations Security Council regarding the situation in Afghanistan at the United Nations in New York City, New York, U.S., August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 (Reuters) - The United States is urging world leaders to send videos instead of traveling to New York next month for an annual high-level gathering at the United Nations, saying it would help prevent it "from being a super-spreader event" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting of world leaders for the 76th U.N. General Assembly, starting Sept. 21, is shaping up to be a hybrid event of in-person speeches and video statements as global vaccination rates vary and the spread of COVID-19 variants sparks concern.

"We need your help to prevent UNGA 76 High-Level Week from being a super-spreader event," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, wrote in an Aug. 13 letter to her counterparts in the 193-member world body.

"Heads of delegation should consider delivering their statements to the U.N. General Assembly's General Debate by video. If delegations choose to travel to New York ... we request delegations bring the minimum number of travelers necessary," she said.

The United States is also calling for all U.N.-hosted meetings and any side events to be fully virtual. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is planning high-level events during the weeklong gathering on climate change, energy transition and food systems, diplomats said.

"Parallel meetings and high-level events drawing travelers to New York needlessly increases risk to our community, New Yorkers, and other travelers," Thomas-Greenfield said.

Last year's gathering had been billed as a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the world body, but leaders instead sent pre-recorded videos or had their New York-based U.N. ambassadors deliver statements due to COVID-19.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday that the United Nations was discussing this year's event with the United States and that "things will become a little clearer as the days and weeks proceed."

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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