UN high-level meet and proof of vaccination explained

New York (AFP) –


The high-level 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly gets underway next week amid confusion about whether all delegates, including world leaders, have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to attend.

Here, AFP answers the key questions surrounding the snafu, which started when New York issued a vaccine directive that the assembly initially supported, before reversing course after complaints from members.

- Where are we now? -

It appears delegates will not have to show proof of vaccination to enter the UN headquarters but they should have their vaccine cards ready if they want to eat or drink in any of New York's many bars and restaurants.

The Big Apple began enforcing a vaccine mandate on Monday, requiring proof of at least one shot for many indoor activities, including dining, entertainment venues and gyms.

But UN officials say the city's jurisdiction does not extend to the UN headquarters itself.

The United States does not require proof of vaccination to enter the country, only negative tests from some countries, so there is no enforcement at airports.

- How did this all start? -

In a letter dated September 9, the city government told the General Assembly president that "all persons" entering the UN headquarters for the purposes of attending the debate in the main hall would have to show proof of vaccination.

The mayor's office cited its local vaccine mandate law and 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," it said.

- What was the UN's response? -

On September 14, assembly president Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives wrote to members saying he "strongly supported" the proof of vaccination requirement laid out by the city authorities.

That was met with a quick backlash, led by Russia's ambassador to the UN, who disputed that New York had the authority to enforce the mandate.

Vassily Nebenzia wrote to Shahid on September 15, saying the agreement between the United States and the UN about the headquarters prohibited US actors from regulating the running of the world body.

He added that preventing delegates to access the hall was a "clear violation of the UN charter" and that the directive failed to take into account the "rights of people who have received vaccines that are not approved by the CDC."

Russia's Sputnik V has not received approval from the World Health Organization, meaning it is not recognized in New York.

- Then what happened? -

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he no authority to issue a vaccine mandate for entry into the high-level dialogue.

But all public-facing UN staff are subject to a vaccine mandate, his spokesman added.

"Member states will have to come to a resolution amongst themselves," his spokesman said Thursday.

That day, Shahid wrote to member states again, this time assuring them that entry to the UN headquarters for the debate will be based on an "honor system" regarding their vaccination status.

The city will host a vaccine pop-up site outside UN HQ next week to try to tempt anyone who hasn't been vaccinated with a single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.