The coronavirus pandemic makes it "unlikely" that world leaders and thousands of other participants will be able to gather in New York in September for the annual UN General Assembly, Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said.

In an interview with the French weekly magazine Paris-Match, published in the Thursday edition, the UN chief said he was looking at "various alternatives" made possible by digital technology, which he will present to member states.

Several UN envoys have already predicted that the meeting will end up being held by videoconference, especially as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the world body.

This year, "the procedures are certainly going to be atypical, hybrid, different" and "much lighter in terms of a physical presence," one ambassador told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said he doesn't see how the UN can organise an "enormous mass gathering in Manhattan" at a time when the virus will not have been eradicated.

Since mid-March -- because of the pandemic and the anti-virus lockdown measures in place in New York, the epicenter of the US outbreak -- UN employees and diplomats have worked from home.

US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump speaks during the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019. Photo: AFP / Johannes EISELE

The UN headquarters building technically remains open but very few people are working there, and both the Security Council and the General Assembly are meeting by videoconference.

Those working conditions have been extended at least until the end of June.

The start of the annual General Assembly is scheduled for September 15, with the session featuring speeches from dozens of world leaders due to begin on September 22.

The meeting, the largest annual diplomatic gathering in the world, features hundreds of events on the sidelines in New York, as well as thousands of bilateral and multilateral meetings.

It has never been canceled since the UN's founding in 1945.

It has been delayed twice -- after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, and in 1964 due to a financial crisis within the organization, and because several members were facing the loss of their voting rights.

But the September 18, 1961 death of then UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia) -- which remains unsolved -- did not spark any postponement.

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