Philippines mission to UN on lockdown in New York after diplomat tests positive for coronavirus

The Philippine Center New York, which houses the Philippine mission to the United Nations, is on lockdown Friday morning after a female diplomat tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday. The woman was last at the U.N. on March 9.

About 12 diplomats work at the mission on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The staff is currently "isolated and in good condition."

A statement from the Philippines' mission to the United Nations confirmed that Deputy Ambassador Kira Azucena had tested positive for COVID-19.

The statement noted that: “She last visited the United Nations last Monday, March 9, for about 30 minutes -- from 12.50 to 1.20 pm. She was asymptomatic then. The following day, Tuesday, March 10, she came down with flu-like symptoms and, in accordance with the Mission’s office protocol, did not report for work that day and saw her doctor."

It continued: “She tested positive for flu and was prescribed Tamiflu. She got the call [Friday] that she tested positive for COVID-19.”

The statement also noted that the Filipino mission was working closely with the New York Health Department and was on lockdown until further notice. It also made clear that all employees were to self-quarantine and seek medical help if symptoms developed.

An email sent out by a U.N. spokesman to media noted that: “The delegate did not have contact with U.N. staff but met two delegates from another mission,” and that U.N. Medical Services had reached out them.

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“As of today, the Philippine Mission is in lockdown, and all personnel are instructed to self-quarantine and to seek medical attention should they develop the symptoms," Azucena told Reuters. "We are assuming that all of us have been infected."

The diplomat was also at U.N. headquarters on Monday, marking the first COVID-19 case inside the 74-year-old international organization.

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NEW YORK, USA - MARCH 11: The outside view of United Nations Headquarters after it closed to the public "out of an abundance of caution" because of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York, United States on March 11, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

NEW YORK, USA - MARCH 11: The outside view of United Nations Headquarters after it closed to the public "out of an abundance of caution" because of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York, United States on March 11, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The diplomat represented the Philippines in the U.N. General Assembly’s legal affairs committee and had been in the United Nations headquarters for about 30 minutes without having symptoms for the virus, according to a release by the Phillippines mission. She came down with flu-like symptoms the next day and visited a doctor.

The diagnosis prompted several meetings at the U.N. to be canceled on Friday.

The United Nations had already announced measures to postpone larger meetings. The first big casualty being the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women conference that was expected to attract up to 10,000 people to its Manhattan headquarters. The meeting was supposed to stretch over two weeks but met at a much-reduced capacity on Monday for one day.

Additionally, the U.N. closed its doors to members of the public and postponed U.N. guided tours due to the fear of spread. The U.N. said that its tours average around 1000 visitors a day and that 257,000 people took a guided tour in 2019. The U.N. noted that it had nearly 33,000 visitors in January and February with 3,500 cancellations due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized U.N. agency, this week declared the virus, which originated in China, as a pandemic and said China still has the most number of cases and deaths from the virus -- but the epicenter was now in Europe.

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"She [Azucena] got the call today that she tested positive for COVID-19," the release added. "[She] immediately advised the United Nations medical director’s office of this development, as well as the NYC health department."

A U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Reuters the infected diplomat met with two other diplomats and visited only one U.N. meeting room, which had since been cleaned three times. The spokesman said U.N. medical services were contacting the other diplomats.

Teodoro Locsin, the Philippines Foreign Secretary said on Twitter infected diplomat was "young," “doing well,” and had "just come from Florida."

The U.N. started taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 this week, including closing the building off to the public. Half the several thousand U.N. staff will work from home by next week, according to the news organization.

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New York has over 338 cases of the virus, the second-highest total outside of Washington state. Cases in NYC were nearing 100 on Thursday, according to the state's health department.

The Phillippines has 52 confirmed cases and two deaths from the virus.