By Arul Louis
United Nations, March 14 (IANS) A day after a UN diplomat was reported positive for the coronavirus, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has ordered all staff at the headquarters to telecommute unless their presence was required for essential services, according to his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
He said that Guterres took the decision “to step up precautionary measures at UN Headquarters to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus”.
The telecommunication directive will come into force on Monday and be in effect for four weeks till April 12 and after three weeks the UN will asses the need for continuing it, he said in a note to correspondents.
“It is essential that we reduce social contact to a minimum and follow the clear instructions of the World Health Organisation to minimize the risks of transmitting the infection,” he said.
The Philippines mission to the UN had reported that one of its diplomats had tested positive for COVID-19.
The diplomat had visited the UN headquarters on Monday for a meeting.
Two teachers at the UN International School, which is located at a different location, have also tested positive for coronavirus and the parents of the children there had been asked by the UN to telecommute for two weeks, Dujarric said earlier at his daily briefing.
Dujarric had said that if the UN headquarters were to scale back staff presence, “what is important and to remember is that the UN’s work will continue. We will continue to support peacekeeping operations. We will continue to support our humanitarian operations”.
Earlier this week, Guterres ordered all but the charter-mandated meetings of the UN at the headquarters cancelled till the end of April and also asked countries to drop their side events.
The Security Council and the General Assembly will have to make their own decision on whether to meet physically or use some form of a cyber-meeting.
If they need to hold meetings, “we will support them in whatever way we can”, Dujarric said.
“Critical meetings of the Security Council to renew mandates, critical meetings of the Budget Committee to approve budgets” will have to be held,” he added.
The Security Council held a test of a cybermeeting on Monday as a backup should the UN building be entirely shut down.
China’s Permanent Representative Zhang Jun, who is the Security Council President for this month, said that its 15 delegations have been asked to “scale down” participation by reducing the number of those attending the meeting.
The UN is taking several steps to be prepared if the headquarters complex has to be shut down and provisions have been made for key staff to operate remotely, Dujarric said.
He had said that he was himself equipped to run the daily briefings from his living room.
But at the Friday briefing he said: “We have raised this issue to make sure that resident correspondents are considered critical personnel,” to have access to the building.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)