17 July – Since mid-March, United Nations Headquarters has operated with a maximum onsite occupancy of 200 to 300 people a day, with a vast majority of the Organization's staff working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

On 20 July, as part of the phased return of personnel to UN premises, maximum occupancy will  increase to about 400 people, or roughly 10 per cent of that in normal times, and the complex will be ready to welcome back the next group of staff.

Earlier this week, I visited the premises for the first time in four months to check out the safety and health measures in place during Phase 1.  Here’s my step-by-step account of what I experienced, from entry to exit, photographed by my colleague, Manuel Elias of UN Photo. 


Man looks at a sign by a gated entrance.

It was good to be back, and the first thing I saw was the COVID-19-related safety requirements at the 42nd Street Staff Entrance. 


Man lowers his facemask in front of a Security Officer

I was asked to lower my face covering and show a valid UN grounds pass to help confirm my identity. 


Man crosses a security gate

…no waiting in line. By swiping my UN ID, I confirmed I met the UN safety requirements and walked through open doors for a touch-free entry. 


Man walks towards UN Secretariat.

I followed the one-way traffic directions in and out. The Secretariat building stands tall, so does the UN, unshaken by the COVID-19 tempest, as the Organization marks its seventy-fifth year. 


Man stops at a handwashing-station.

I turned right towards the corridor that connects the Secretariat and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library building – there’s a new entrance to the buildings. But you’ll find something else there – a new handwashing station. 


Man passes through entrance of UN Secretariat.

No revolving door at this new side entrance; another touch-free entry. It was the first time I passed through this door in my entire UN career. 


Man walks across a checkered floor

I followed the one-way direction decals in the Secretariat lobby, and looked out the window at the commanding view of the East River and Long Island City. 


A sticker on the floor indicates social distancing.

Physical distancing decals have been carefully placed everywhere. I can see my reflection on the shiny floor, a reminder of the work done by colleagues who are cleaning and maintaining the premises behind the scenes. THANK YOU. 


Man approaches an elevator bank.

Need to keep my face covering on in all the public areas of the building and while taking an elevator. Maximum two-person occupancy. 


Man walks through an office hallway.

Exiting the elevator to a floor with flexible workspace arrangements; one-way traffic rules apply here too. 


Sticker on a table indicates social distancing.

Meeting rooms have reminders about maintaining physical distancing, as well as signs outside that show the maximum occupancy rate. However, during Phase 1, no face-to-face meetings are permitted. 


Man walks through an open space office.

One-way traffic again, now on the east-facing side of the building. No workstations can be used on the west side of the building – the space is too narrow. 


Chair on its side under a desk.

Chairs at desks that are not to be used are attached to and tucked under desks to ensure physical distancing while at work. Decals are there too as reminders. 


Man wiping down a phone.

Cleaning supplies are placed at common areas. I used disinfectant wipes to clean the equipment at the start and end of my day. 


Man sitting at a desk in an open desk space.

With physical distancing, and no one sitting close or across from you, there is no requirement to wear a face covering at workstations. The office is pretty empty, and is expected to remain the same during Phase One. 


A focus space in an open office space.

Ample room to maintain physical distancing from colleagues. The AC felt good, the HVAC system has been set to maximize the circulation of outside air into the building. In the middle of the day, 100 per cent outside air is flushed through the building for around 30 minutes, or as long as possible while still maintaining a comfortable temperature. This is repeated every evening for a full hour. 


Man looks inside the refrigerator.

Remember to always put your face covering back on if you get up from your workspace to go to the pantry, bathroom, or move around the building. The cafeterias and cafes are closed. Bring your own lunch! Otherwise… 


Snack machine in the dark.

…snacks from the vending machines. 


Legs walking along an arrow.

Be attentive to the signs and follow the arrows to minimize passing other people. 


Man walks through glass doors into an elevator bank.

Ready to go home through another open door. 


Man stands in front of UN Secretariat entrance.

Heading out to First Avenue with special thanks to colleagues performing onsite functions at UN Headquarters and other UN campuses around the world.