The sprawling United Nations headquarters, which has been largely closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is preparing to reopen in three phases, introducing new workplace measures for employees, diplomats, and journalists with a maximum of two people -Assignment in elevators and wearing masks in public areas.
As New York City begins the first phase of reopening on Monday, the UN is also preparing to return to normal in three phases.
New York, the city most affected by the coronavirus, has reported 211,728 cases and 21,323 deaths. The United States has over 1.94 million infections and at least 110,400 have died.
"The safety and health of UN personnel, delegates and everyone else on the premises is a top priority," said Atul Khare, secretary general for operational support, in a UN article.
"The physical return of personnel to work will be in line with, and will not follow, the relaxation of New York City and state restrictions."
Preparations for a possible return are in phase 1, according to the Operational Support Department, with facility and commercial activity staff working around the clock to prepare offices and conference rooms in the 39-story secretariat.
The United Nations Department of Global Communications (DGC) said in an article that only selected activities are allowed at UN headquarters during phase 1. The department said the New York on PAUSE executive order needs to be relaxed to move to phase 1.
The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, had extended the New York PAUSE regulation until June 13, after which people remained at home and all non-essential businesses had to be closed.
However, regions across the state have started to reopen gradually once they meet seven state-mandated health-related criteria.
The United Nations said for the first phase of its reopening that improvements in the local epidemic situation and health care capacity are also evident, as recommended by the city and state.
In the first phase, the maximum occupancy of the headquarters complex is limited to 400 people per day, in contrast to the limit of 4,200 in normal times. The focus will be solely on the tasks that need to be performed on site, and many important tasks will continue to be done remotely, the department said.
While face-to-face personnel required to perform on-site functions are expected to arrive, temperature tests are not required to enter the premises, and no COVID-19 tests are required before contacting the Return to work.
Everyone on the premises is expected to wear face covers in public areas such as lobbies, elevators, corridors, and toilets. In general, they don't have to put on masks at their desks.
In phases 1 and 2, routine personal or organizational personal meetings are not permitted.
The department said crews were used to disinfect high-density, high-contact areas in the headquarters complex, which includes the 39-story secretariat tower, the general assembly hall, and conference and library buildings.
Frequently used areas and surfaces – from lobbies, elevators and toilets to furniture, doorknobs, switch panels and handrails, turnstiles and counters are thoroughly cleaned.
Corridors and walls are marked to mark new pedestrian routes to ensure that people waiting in line continue to meet physical distance requirements. Hand disinfection stations are installed in lobbies and other public areas, including at least one station on each office floor.
In phase 2, the building occupancy in the headquarters complex is gradually increased to a maximum of 1,100 employees per day, which is approximately 40 percent of the normal level. Alternative labor agreements will largely remain, and many employees will continue to work remotely.
The transition from phase 1 to phase 2 requires a further reduction in the epidemic and a strengthening of the health system in the host city, according to the United Nations.
The UN said phase 3 would be a "new normal" and will happen when workplace risks are reduced to pre-epidemic levels and the restrictions on COVID-19 from New York City and the state, including those, are lifted that allow reopening of daycare centers and public schools.
The operational support department says it is too early to outline the working modalities that will be introduced in the third phase.
"COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work, and interact," said Khare. "But we are resilient and can navigate through them together, while of course maintaining the physical distance."