UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly is relying on an honor system – and only an honor system – to ensure world leaders have been vaccinated before they speak at next week’s big meeting, the assembly president said.
Presidents, premiers, monarchs and other dignitaries won’t have to show vaccination cards or other proof of immunization – they’ll simply attest to it by swiping their ID badges at the assembly hall, G.A. President Abdulla Shahid said in a letter Thursday. The assembly began testing the same policy in June for diplomats at its day-to-day meetings.
Still, it could quickly raise thorny questions at the biggest global diplomatic gathering of the year. Russia has criticized the requirement, and the first speaker, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, isn’t vaccinated and reiterated Thursday that he doesn’t plan to get the shot anytime soon.
The U.N. has been wrestling with how to implement – diplomatically – a New York City vaccination requirement for convention centers, which the city said last week would apply to the assembly hall. Shahid told members Tuesday he supported the policy but didn’t give details on how it would work.
“We very much hope that this solution is acceptable to all, within the confines of everyone’s responsibilities and status,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Friday.
A message sent to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office wasn’t immediately returned. He has said the city’s aim is to protect both assembly attendees and New Yorkers from the virus.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the assembly’s top-level annual meeting to go almost entirely virtual last year.
Leaders seem to have missed the opportunity to interact face to face: More than 100 heads of state and government and over 20 foreign ministers have signed up to speak in person this time. Other nations are participating virtually in the meeting’s central event, a speechfest where every country gets a chance to opine on global issues, spotlight domestic ones and use the world stage to court allies or assail foes.
By tradition, first up is Brazil, where the right-wing president has insisted he won’t get immunized for the meeting.
“Why take the vaccine? To have antibodies, isn’t that right? My antibody levels are way up high,” Bolsonaro said in a live broadcast on social media Thursday night. “After everybody in Brazil is vaccinated, I’ll decide.”
About 36% of Brazil’s population is vaccinated, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data.
While many countries’ leaders have disclosed their vaccination status, some haven’t. Among them is Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who also is planning to attend the assembly.
Russia complained earlier this week that requiring vaccinations would violate nations’ rights to participate at the U.N. and would discriminate against, for example, people with medical reasons not to get the shots.
A message was sent Friday to Russia’s U.N. mission about the honor-system plan.