The United States has requested that the United Nations scale back the annual General Assembly meeting in New York next month, making it a mostly virtual gathering, to avoid the “superspreader” infection risks posed by the pandemic’s highly contagious Delta variant.
The request, made in a diplomatic note sent by the U.S. Mission to the other members of the global organization, appeared to assure that the world’s biggest diplomatic gathering would be similar to the mostly virtual one held in 2020, or perhaps be even more restricted.
The General Assembly meeting, which starts in mid-September, historically has been one of the busiest events at the United Nations headquarters, with heads of state and government from around the world converging in New York with their diplomatic entourages. The influx of V.I.P.’s creates enormous security challenges for the New York Police Department and routinely paralyzes traffic in Manhattan.
Though the United States is the host country, it does not dictate which foreign leaders visit the United Nations to address the General Assembly in what is known as the General Debate. But the organization defers to the host government authorities on matters of health requirements.
U.N. officials said earlier in the summer that the session in September, the 76th General Assembly, would be much more like the prepandemic version, with at least some foreign leaders attending the General Debate in person and many side events, conferences and social gatherings held face to face.
But as the risks posed by the rapidly spreading Delta variant have grown — even to people who have been fully vaccinated — the United States government has turned more cautious.
“The United States, as the host country of the U.N. Headquarters, bears a significant responsibility and we need your support to prevent UNGA 76 High-Level Week from being a superspreader event,” said the U.S. Mission’s diplomatic note, which was seen by The New York Times.
‘In light of current health concerns, heads of delegation should consider delivering their statements to the U. N. General Assembly’s General Debate by video,” the note said.
The note acknowledged that U.N. officials had put precautions in place including mandatory use of face masks and social distancing, and had given the leaders of all 193 members the option of delivering speeches by prerecorded video.
Nonetheless, the note said, “the United States needs to make clear our call, as the host country, for all U.N.-hosted meetings and side events, beyond the General Debate, to be fully virtual.”
It further recommended that the United Nations strengthen what has been an honor system for visitors to declare themselves virus free, saying the organization should require “confirmed negative Covid-19 status to enter U. N. Headquarters, and, if possible, vaccination.”
Should countries wish to send delegations next month, the note said, the United States requested that they be reduced to “the minimum number of travelers necessary.”
It remained unclear on Thursday whether President Biden would make his first General Assembly speech in person. Officials at the U.S. Mission said they had no information on Mr. Biden’s plans.