With New York City now clearly the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States — as of Friday reporting 5,683 cases and 43 deaths — United Nations diplomats from various countries are pushing to suspend in-person voting and sessions.
Most United Nations Security Council members are already pushing to vote in teleconferencing only and to rely on virtual meetings, however, Russia is reportedly blocking the initiative. Reuters reports:
Russia believes the 15-member body “shouldn’t be afraid” to meet in person in the council chamber in New York.
The council has so far merely experimented with video conference meetings and is seeking to implement it during this public health emergency as a "last report" measure.
"Russia has prevented the Security Council from approving a U.S.-drafted procedural note, seen by Reuters, for meetings held by videoconference, said diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity. Such notes must be agreed by consensus," the report continues.
The Russian position as articulated by its Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, is that the UNSC Chamber is “one of the safest venues” in New York City and “the risk of getting the virus there is much lower than when we go to a shop for basic needs.”
“We shouldn’t be afraid to gather from time to time in UNSC Chamber,” Nebenzia said.
The US procedural note being held up by Russia calls for “an initial period of two weeks and may be further extended for additional two-week periods, preferably by consensus,” writes Reuters.
But given that staff in other 'high secure' locations and government buildings have caught the coronavirus, most notably a member of Vice President's Mike Pence's staff, the Russian UN delegation and others could now be questioning their logic that the UN chamber is still among the "safest venues".