United Nations members debated this week hosting September's General Assembly in person with smaller-than-normal delegations because of the pandemic, an option amenable to host country the United States.

Due to the global health crisis the 2020 gathering was held virtually, with leaders submitting pre-recorded videos instead of visiting New York.

In normal times, UN General Assemblies -- the largest diplomatic meeting in the world -- see tens of thousands of people descend on New York for the event itself and hundreds of informal gatherings on the sidelines.

The United States agreed to a physical meeting this time -- with strict safety conditions -- during a debate Wednesday, a key step to convening an in-person summit.

"While we welcome heads of state or government to attend, we do encourage that all member states aim to limit their delegation size here in the city" of New York," US diplomat Rodney Hunter said.

"A successful summit with limited delegations is 100% achievable," he said, adding that "use of a pre-recorded video statement by head of state or government should remain an option for delegations this year."

The United States insisted on "clear rules" for a "safe and successful" summit week.

The criteria for visiting New York as part of a UN delegation should include pre- and post-arrival Covid-19 testing, seven-day quarantines for those who are unvaccinated and temperature checks, the United States said.

A person walks past flags outside the United Nations headquarters on May 20, 2021 in New York
A person walks past flags outside the United Nations headquarters on May 20, 2021 in New York AFP / Angela Weiss

"We also recommend following the current one plus one format for the general debate" in the General Assembly hall, Hunter said, allowing two participants per delegation into the hall at once, along with mask-wearing and social distancing.

He also said the US would be recommending a maximum of six people per delegation and would encourage any informal side meetings to remain virtual.

Besides an in-person meeting, the UN on Wednesday suggested two other options: a gathering featuring only ministers from the countries attending, or another virtual assembly.

It is not up to the UN administrative staff to decide how to hold the assembly, but rather to the member states, several countries said.

Most countries seem to reject the idea of another virtual meeting like last year, which many participants described as frustrating.