The United Nations General Assembly in a file photo. Image Credit: AP

New York: The cavernous General Assembly hall of the United Nations will have far fewer vacant seats. Corridors of the organisation’s iconic New York City headquarters, eerily silent for months, will echo with more voices and footsteps. Motorcades will whisk in dozens of world leaders to deliver speeches in person.

The annual General Assembly, the diplomatic mega-event that was held almost entirely virtually last year because of the pandemic, will be far more physical when it convenes Tuesday for two weeks.

Although strict pandemic rules will be enforced, including mandatory mask-wearing for all participants, required vaccinations for headquarters staff and limited access to its 16-acre campus, the United Nations is aiming for at least a partial restoration of the person-to-person diplomacy that its leaders regard as critical for the organization’s ability to function.

The outgoing annual president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, a Turkish statesman, told reporters in his farewell news conference recently that at least 83 leaders were planning to attend this year’s event, albeit with slimmed-down entourages compared with pre-pandemic years.

A provisional list of speakers provided by UN officials, who said it could change up the last minute, indicated that President Joe Biden would attend, for what would be his first address as president to the 193-member world body.

According to the provisional list, leaders from Brazil, Britain, Canada, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey and Venezuela also plan to personally deliver their speeches, which are scheduled for the second week. China’s speech will be delivered by its deputy prime minister, the list indicated, and Russia’s by its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

Each delegation in the General Assembly hall will be permitted up to five members, compared with two in 2020, when the speeches of all member-state leaders were delivered via prerecorded video on a large screen to largely empty seats. The lack of spontaneity, physical contact and unscripted encounters created a stilted, artificial ambience that participants want to avoid replicating.

Still, the prospect of hundreds of diplomats converging from overseas at the United Nations has been a persistent source of concern, particularly because of the contagion risks posed by the delta variant of the coronavirus.