NEW YORK CITY, New York: UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid and New York City officials have jointly announced that world leaders must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the opening meeting of the United Nations General Assembly next week, which immediately drew objections from Russia.
In a letter last week, New York International Affairs Commissioner Penny Abeywardena told the assembly, "Officials consider the hall a convention center and is, therefore, subject to the city's vaccination requirements."
Abeywardena and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, in a statement, that the city will offer free walk-in vaccinations with Johnson & Johnson's single shot vaccinations, and testing will be conducted outside the UN headquarters.
In a letter on Tuesday, Shahid called the vaccine mandate "an important step in our return to a fully-functional General Assembly," but Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia condemned it as "clearly discriminatory" and infringes on the rights of member nations at the UN.
In a letter to Shahid on Wednesday seen by the Associated Press, Nebenzia said, "We believe that no measures beyond reasonable precautions should be introduced that de-facto prevent member states from participating."
Nebenzia requested an urgent assembly meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter, affirming people who cannot receive vaccinations for medical reasons and those who have developed antibodies after catching COVID-19 must be considered.
Under a 1947 agreement with the U.S., the UN has considerable autonomy, with police and U.S. officials requiring permission to enter its building, and federal, state and local laws do not apply if they conflict with UN rules.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, affirmed the assembly's authority to make decisions that delegates must follow, but stressed that the organization will help implement them.
While the leaders of a few countries will speak via video link, some 104 heads of state and government and 23 cabinet ministers will deliver their nations' signature speeches in person at the assembly.
However, only six people can be brought to the UN headquarters by each leader, and only four may enter the assembly hall.
All UN staff working in the building must also be vaccinated.