UNITED NATIONS - Diplomatic activities at the usually bustling United Nations headquarters in New York have slowed down considerably following the imposition of sweeping measures to curb the spread of coronavirus that are affecting normal work here.

A day after a diplomat from the Philippines was reported positive for the coronavirus, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered all staff at the headquarters to telecommute unless their presence was required for essential services, according to his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

The headquarter restrictions also include reduced physical participation for diplomats at the meetings of UN Security Council and the General Assembly. Several side events in the coming week have also been canceled.

The UN Secretariat oversees nearly 100,000 peace-keeping forces at conflict zones around the world, and employees and diplomats routinely discuss a wide variety of world issues at small and large meetings. Significantly reduced staff at the UN offices would adversely affect the work.

In his letter to the UN staff,  Guterres sought to assure anxious staff that he was doing everything possible to protect them, telling them “your health and well-being remain my greatest concern.”

“Our world is facing an unprecedented threat, and the United Nations is facing one of the biggest challenges in our history,” the UN chief  wrote. “The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is having a major impact on us and our work, both at headquarters and in many of our field offices and duty stations.”

Guterres said he has instituted a policy that would allow staff to telecommute three days a week, five for high-risk employees, to reduce the population density at U.N. headquarters. He also said he canceled all side events at U.N. headquarters from March 16 to the end of April and has urged member states to do the same.

“These are difficult times for everyone,” he said. “My message remains: be safe, be smart, (and) be kind.”

The U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly have already announced plans to reduce the number of diplomats they bring to meetings and refrain from inviting visitors into the U.N. headquarters building. The U.N.’s International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, scheduled for April 24, has been canceled.

“It is our firm belief that we should not panic,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, who is serving as this month’s president of the Security Council, told reporters. But he said, “We should take all precautionary measures to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus in this building.”

Meanwhile, self-service in the cafeterias in the building has also been recently banned.

The new virus from the coronavirus family first emerged in China’s Wuhan City in December last year. Since then, it has spread across the world, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic.