The rubber-gloved bathroom attendants at the COP26 climate talk’s venue may have the event’s least enviable job – wiping down the portable toilet cubicles after every use to help fight COVID-19.
More than 25 000 delegates are attending the United Nations talks – one of the first major global gatherings to be held during the pandemic – and organisers have implemented a raft of anti-virus measures including daily testing and mask wearing requirements.
“The safety and security of everyone at COP26 and in the surrounding community is of utmost importance,” organisers said in a 13-page advice note urging delegates to avoid hugs and offering guidance on how to recycle wet wipe packaging.
Delegates at the Glasgow talks have to take a self-administered lateral flow test each day – and record the results on a UK National Health Service (NHS) app – before entering the “Blue Zone” where the negotiations are being held. That has at times proved a challenge as delegates from close to 200 countries try to make sense of the detailed instructions on swabbing, swirling and dabbing needed to administer a test.
On the first day of the conference, hundreds of delegates poured into a testing facility next to the entrance with phones in hand and puzzled expressions to seek technical help and initial tests.
A few, flummoxed at their inability to master the app, showed up to the conference gates the next day with their self-administered negative tests in hand – before being directed back to the testing facility.
Maintaining one-metre of social distancing – the amount recommended by conference organisers – has also proved tricky.
Crowds of frustrated delegates queued outside the COP26 venue for as much as an hour and a half early on Monday, prompting organisers to encourage everyone who did not absolutely need to be at the venue to watch online instead. Events inside the conference centre also had a COVID-era flavour.
A discussion on “loss and damage” from climate change at Germany’s display pavilion on Monday featured two panellists inside a closed goldfish-bowl-style Plexiglas room, while listeners sat outside, linked to the discussion via headphones.
Additional speakers appeared by video link at the event which, like many at COP26, was a combination live and virtual discussion.
In the venue’s multitude of meeting and conference rooms, microphones, chairs and tables are also being wiped down with disinfectant between uses, and packed-in chairs in press conference rooms have given way to socially distanced seating.
“As hosts, we recognise how urgently the world must come together to agree on action to tackle climate change,” the organisers noted in advice to delegates.
But “everyone coming to COP26 has an important role to play in keeping themselves, their fellow participants and the community safe”, it added.