New York says UNGA delegates must be vaccinated, angering Russia

Thursday, 16 September 2021

All leaders and diplomats attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week will have to provide proof of vaccination, the city government said Wednesday, sparking anger from Russia.

Delegates must be vaccinated to enter the debate hall, the mayor's office told the assembly president in a letter dated September 9, but Moscow queried whether New York had the authority to enforce the mandate.

Attendees must also be vaccinated if they want to eat or exercise indoors, the letter added.

More than one hundred leaders including US President Joe Biden, Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have announced they plan to attend in person. Others will make an address via videolink, reports AP.

Bolsonaro, who had the virus last year, has said he would be the "last Brazilian" to get vaccinated.

His office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from AFP regarding the New York announcement.

New York began enforcing a vaccine mandate on Monday, requiring proof of at least one shot for many indoor activities, including restaurants and entertainment venues. The letter signed by New York City's health commissioner and confirmed by his spokesman said the UN debate hall was classified as a "convention center," meaning all attendees must be vaccinated.

"They must also show proof of vaccination prior to dining, drinking or exercising indoors on the UN campus, and in order to partake in all of New York City's wonderful entertainment, dining and fitness activities," he said.

- 'Clearly discriminatory measure' -But Russia's ambassador requested an urgent meeting of the General Assembly to discuss the move.

Vassily Nebenzia wrote to assembly president Abdulla Shahid Wednesday saying he had been "very much surprised and disappointed" by a letter Shahid wrote to members in which he supported the proof of vaccination requirement.

"We strongly object that only people with a proof of vaccination should be admitted to the GA hall," Nebenzia wrote in the letter seen by AFP.

He described it as "a clearly discriminatory measure," adding that preventing delegates to access the hall was a "clear violation of the UN charter."

New York accepts all vaccines that have been approved by either the World Health Organization or America's federal Food and Drug Administration.

Nebenzia said the "rights of people who have received vaccines that are not approved by the CDC" must also be taken into consideration.

He added that the agreement between the United States and the UN over the world body's headquarters prohibited US actors from regulating the running of the UN.

The city's letter also reminded diplomats that New York state requires everyone to wear masks on public transport.

"New York City strongly encourages universal mask use indoors regardless of vaccination status," the note added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement that the city would set up a pop-up vaccination site at the UN headquarters next week offering free single-dose Johnson & Johnson shots.

The high-level week of the 76th session of the General Assembly starts on Tuesday and finishes the following Monday.

It will be a combined in-person and remote event after last year's UNGA took place virtually because of the pandemic. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of people usually accompany leaders on foreign trips but because of coronavirus each delegation is only allowed seven people into the UN headquarters and only four into the hall.