As heads of state, foreign ministers, ambassadors and members of their entourage gather on the banks of Turtle Bay, let’s pray next week’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly doesn’t become a Covid super spreader.
After last year, when the annual gabfest, known as UNGA for short, was conducted virtually due to pandemic fears, next week’s event will be attended in person by luminaries from most of the world’s countries.
Last month the American mission to the world body sent a letter urging all countries to send a pre-recorded message rather than come to New York. Most, possibly including President Biden, ignored that request. Although the White House is yet to publish Mr. Biden’s schedule for next week, most at Turtle bay believe he’ll attend UNGA in person.
Meanwhile, your local New York watering hole, where the barkeep is required by the city to card all patrons for proof of vaccination but, in what Assemblyman Mark Levine says could “expose them, and NYC, to serious risk,” next week’s visiting dignitaries and their posse are not required to show such documentation. Instead, according to UN officials, they’re encouraged to be vaccinated before arrival.
Oops. As is traditional, next week’s first scheduled national speaker is Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonero — the world’s most outspoken opponent of Covid vaccination. He already contracted the virus and remains adamant that no one, including him, receives the shot.
Yet unclear is whether Mr. Bolsonaro will attend Monday’s gathering of top leaders, initiated by President Biden, to discuss ways to improve global vaccine distribution. That’s a lofty goal, so far unrealized by a distribution scheme known as Covax, which is run by the World Health Organization.
While it’s unclear how much Monday’s discussion will actually improve vaccination rates around the world, let’s at least hope all attendees remain Covid free afterwards and avoid spreading the virus to their colleagues and the host city.
Another Monday event that we can hope will not become viral (in all meanings of the word) commemorates the 20th anniversary of the first so-called anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa. Contaminated by the world’s most persistent hatred, that conference was plagued by hostility to Israel and Jews. Nineteen countries and counting, including the world’s leading democracies, will boycott next week’s repeat performance, known as Durban IV, because of what Britain’s foreign ministry describes as “concerns of antisemitism.”
I asked the Secretary General Guterres of Portugal about those concerns. “Durban represents an important moment in the history of the United Nations,” he said. “I believe that that should be effectively commemorated, and I hope that there is a dialogue among countries to make sure that the present situation is overcome.”
Overcome? The sentiment that keeps America and others away from Durban IV still plagues the entire building even after the repeal in 1991 of the resolution known as “Zionism is Racism.” As the director of United Nations Watch, Hillel Neuer, notes, last year the General Assembly passed one resolution each on North Korea, Myanmar, Syria, and Iran; two resolutions on Crimea; and whooping 17 resolutions denouncing Israel.
Yet, UN antisemitism, or even fears of the spread of Covid, will hardly figure in next week’s headlines. Mr. Guterres will open the general debate Tuesday, followed by Mr. Bolsonaro, and then the host country’s head of state, Mr. Biden, will deliver his first speech as president at the UN hall.
Mr. Biden will likely repeat his “America is back” mantra and highlight his presidency’s restoration of the world’s faith in Washington’s global leadership. Afghanistan’s botched evacuation? Today’s North Korean missile tests? Fears of China invading the democratic, but UN-shunned Republic of China on Taiwan? Never mind. Climate change will be a top topic and diplomatic solutions will be widely wished over hot wars.
After the bulldog edition of this editorial went out to Sun readers, the Sun received a copy of a letter from the office of Mayor DeBlasio to the General Assembly president, Abdulla Shaheed, contending that the UN Assembly hall is subject to the city’s requirement that proof of vaccination be presented upon entry at all indoor gatherings.
A UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said the decision on that issue is up to member states. Science, meanwhile, has yet to determine the degree to which so much hot air as the UN produces can transmit the various Covid variants. Let’s pray, for the sake of the host city and for its prominent guests, that it’s really low.