UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi tests positive for Covid-19

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GENEVA – The UN refugee said on Wednesday (Oct 7) that he had tested for Covid-19 after leading the first day of the agency’s main annual meeting in person.

, who kicked off the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) week-long Executive Committee meeting in Geneva on Monday, told participants via video-link that he would need to continue following the event from home.

“I am engaging with UNHCR’s Executive Committee from home as I have to isolate after testing positive to #,” he said in a tweet.

“I only have mild symptoms and hope to recover soon,” he said, stressing with the help of emojis the importance of “washing hands”, “keeping distances” and “wearing masks”.

Grandi had addressed delegates from the podium in the UN Assembly Hall in Geneva on the first day of the event, but participated remotely on Tuesday.

Spokesman Andrej Mahecic told AFP that Grandi had tested positive on Tuesday evening.

“He felt mild flu-like symptoms in the morning and, according to protocol he got tested in the morning and continued to work online, so virtually from home as he was chairing… the 71st session of the UNHCR Executive Committee,” he said.

Mahecic said that as soon as Grandi received his test result, he had “immediately” informed the seven people he had been in close proximity to – defined as closer than 1.5m – during Monday’s session.

“All of them are now self-isolating in quarantine for 14 days, and obviously they are monitoring their symptoms,” he said, adding that “so far, none of them have developed any symptoms”.

Grandi’s tweet was met with numerous well-wishes for a speedy recovery, including from the ambassadors of Norway, the Netherlands and Cyprus, and the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

UNHCR’s executive committee is for the first time being held as a hybrid event this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Only limited numbers of delegates are allowed to attend physically, and distancing restrictions and mask requirements are in place.

The illness of one of the UN’s top officials comes as a number of diplomats are pushing the world body to speed up resumption of activities, in person or at least through hybrid set-ups, amid fears its decision-making processes risk “paralysis”.

Some diplomats have also warned that certain countries are using the pandemic as an excuse to slow down discussions of sensitive topics.

Another concern is that virtual meetings cost far more for the UN to organise than physical events, causing an additional cash-drain for the severely underfunded organisation even as demands for its services are skyrocketing.

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