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The New UN-normal

After three months of empty silence, under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations reopens for business, starting with the Human Rights Council, and an urgent debate on racism and police violence.

Meeting with strict measures in place and a newly devised system for working with the threat of the virus, the UN is offering a version of the "new normal". Each conference room has been carefully re-designed with social distancing measures in mind. Participants keep a respectful two metre distance from each other and are seated accordingly. People circulate around the room in a clockwise direction with doors acting exclusively as separate entries and exits.

The caapacity of meeting spaces has been reduced by 300% and there are tight access controls in place. For this first week of meetings, face masks are obligatory for all participants. Beyond the main meeting room elevators, staircases and lobbies have become single use, corridors have been divided down the middle for direction of movement and every room in the massive complex has been marked with clear indications of maximum occupancy - in many cases just one.

Teams of cleaners follow set circuits of offices, elevators and staircases, disinfecting surfaces that may have been touched and, once completed, restart the whole process all over. Welcome to the new 'UN-normal', a state of anticipation of a potential second wave those officials who have returned whisper about, wondering just how many of these arrows, lines and limitations will become permanent.

At present, nobody knows - neither the United Nations nor the World Health Organisation, headquartered just up the road. There, the whole campus remains completely off-limits to all outsiders and the press. Meanwhile the world keeps turning and the UN's human rights forum has adapted, suspending the normal agenda and focusing on Black Lives Matter. Due to the restrictions participants are able to speak by video link. The brother of George Floyd, the African American man killed by police in Minneapolis, speaks to the assembled delegates from the US and Michelle Bachelet, the Commissioner for Human Rights, is calling for reparations for slavery.

Meanwhile, China's representative berates the council for a lack of transparency in allowing work to restart so soon while being, pointedly, the only representative in the room wearing gloves as well as a face mask.
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