By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has suggested that world leaders send video statements for the world body's annual September meeting because it is "highly unlikely" they will be able to travel to New York during the coronavirus pandemic.
New York is an epicenter for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus that has infected more than 4.8 million people and killed over 319,000 globally. The U.S. death toll has surpassed 90,000.
In a letter to the president of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Guterres suggested a different format be considered for the 75th annual gathering "such as using pre-recorded messages provided by heads of state and government or ministers, with physical presence in the General Assembly Hall limited to one delegate per delegation based in New York."
Guterres said that while another option would be to postpone the high-level gathering until 2021, he believed it would be better for world leaders to be able to make their statements in September.
"It would also allow for the work of the organization to continue, albeit in a different format, and for world leaders to convey their views on important international issues, including on the international response to the pandemic, as well as to hear the views of other leaders," Guterres wrote.
Ultimately, the decision on how to hold the gathering of world leaders will be made by the 193 U.N. member states. Hundreds of other events are also normally held during the week-long gathering in September, but diplomats say they will be canceled this year.
The U.N. General Assembly and the 15-member Security Council have been operating virtually for two months. That is likely to continue until at least the end of June.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Berkrot)