The entire Brazilian delegation is in quarantine
Now the first diplomatic infections are being reported.
Brazil’s entire delegation is in quarantine for 14 days after two officials, including the country’s health minister, Marcel Quiroga, tested positive for the virus.
Controversial Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has ruled out a vaccine and has questioned coronavirus vaccines, even as his country, which has the world’s highest death toll from the coronavirus, is soon approaching 600,000 deaths. He addressed the General Assembly just before President Biden on Tuesday, but a UN worker wearing gloves and a mask, wiped the podium with sanitizer and replaced the microphone cover between each appearance by a world leader.
“It was just so much avoidable if the United Nations had simply put safety protocols in place in a restaurant in New York City, just to screen for vaccinations,” said New York City Council member Mark Levine, chairman of the health committee. He had warned of a similar situation in August before the start of the General Assembly.
“It would have been easy, it would have been the right thing to do,” he told Granthshala News. “But the way the United Nations has just raised its hand and says it doesn’t have authority, it’s really infuriating. They screen the attendees … they do metal detector screenings. You can’t bring weapons. Bringing this virus is the equivalent of bringing a biological weapon. It shouldn’t be considered less serious than bringing in a switchblade. The UN could have been, and should have, and still can be because it The event is not over.”
New York City requires people who attend indoor events such as general gatherings to be vaccinated. But the 22-acre UN complex is legally an international territory. After the Russian ambassador raised objections in the international community to the imposition of municipal rules, the world body decided to go back to the “honor system”, asking attendees to make sure they were vaccinated, Whether they really are or not.
Queiroga had a very busy schedule. He participated in several meetings, including one with the World Health Organisation, and shook hands with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a delegation visit with him on Monday. The next day Johnson traveled to Washington, DC, and sat with President Biden in the Oval Office.
The UN says that it is taking other precautions including contact tracing.
“We have noted the potential risk to UN staff who were present at the GA Hall and contact tracing is being finalised,” said Stéphane Dujarric, the Secretary-General’s spokesman. “Currently, no close contacts have been identified between the UN staff.”
But council member Levine says ignoring the city’s public health mandates is also a stinging message.
“There is a symbolic issue here, which is that the United Nations is sending the message that the rich and powerful do not need to be vaccinated. And that would make it very difficult for us to win the battle to convince regular New Yorkers to get vaccinated. If the president of a big country doesn’t want to get vaccinated and can come here and go to events, how can we ask a regular New Yorker?”
He is also concerned that after his days of attending diplomatic sessions, a swarm of unvaccinated diplomats is spreading into the city’s plush restaurants and bars, potentially infecting patrons.
“This really sends an unfortunate, unfortunate message to New Yorkers and the world at large,” Levine says of the city’s failure to comply with its COVID mandate.
“The fact that they are is not unacceptable. But there is still time. The convention is not over. The United Nations must immediately start doing the right thing and allow no one else to vaccinate.”
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Several hundred UN staff at the United Nations Headquarters have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began. UN observers expect more reports of diplomatic transition to come before the General Assembly debate ends on Monday, 27 September.
Granthshala News’ Ben Ivansky contributed to this report.