Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

That World Health Organization pushes for an international agreement to help prevent and combat future pandemics in the midst of the emergence of a worrying new Omicron COVID-19 variant.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that there are still many uncertainties about how transmissible and serious the infection with the highly mutated Omicron can be.

Tedros joined leaders such as the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera for a long-planned and largely virtual special session for UN member states in the World Health Assembly.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization. (AP)

The purpose of the meeting is to devise a global action plan to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics.

“The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underscores how dangerous and uncertain our situation is,” Tedros said, calling for a “legally binding” agreement, which was not mentioned in a draft text seeking consensus on the way forward. . “Yes, Omicron demonstrates why the world needs a new agreement on pandemics.”

“Our current system deters countries from warning others of threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” he said, adding that South Africa and Botswana – where the new variant was discovered in southern Africa – should be praised and not “punished”. for their work. It was an allusion to travel restrictions announced by many countries on flights to and from the region.

The logo of the World Health Organization, WHO, is displayed at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP)

Tedros said WHO researchers and others around the world were working urgently to decipher the threat of the new variant, saying: “We do not yet know if Omicron is associated with more transmission, more serious disease, greater risk of infections. or more risk of avoiding vaccines. “

The world should now be “fully awake” to the threat of coronavirus, “but the very emergence of Omicron is yet another reminder that while many of us may think we’re done with COVID-19, it’s not done with us,” he added. he.

A draft resolution to be adopted by the World Health Assembly stops calling for work to specifically establish a “pandemic treaty” or “legally binding instrument”, as some demand, which could amplify the international response when – not if – a new pandemic breaks out.

EU member states and others had sought language that called for working towards a treaty, but the United States and a few other countries opposed the drafting of any agreement before such a document was given a name. A “treaty” would propose a legally binding agreement that could require ratification – and would likely lead to domestic political haggling in some countries.

The outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose 16-year term is likely to end next week, called for “reliable funding” for the WHO and increased contributions to the UN agency from its member states – while alluding to the EU’s position in favor of a binding appointment .

“The catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health and the economy should be a lesson for us,” she said in a video message. “Viruses know no national borders. That is precisely why we should define measures to be taken to improve prevention, early detection and response in an internationally binding manner.”

The British Ambassador to Geneva, Simon Manley, tweeted a copy of the draft text adopted by consensus – as required by WHO rules on such matters – and praised Chile and Australia for their work as co-chair.

“The #Omicron variant shows once again why we need a common understanding of how we prepare for and respond to pandemics so that we all play by the same rules,” he wrote.

The draft does not refer to the word “treaty”, but calls, inter alia, for the establishment of an “intergovernmental negotiating body” among WHO member states to draw up a possible agreement to improve pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

The three-day meeting, which opened on Monday, corresponds to a long-term approach: Any UN-backed agreement is likely to take many months, if not years, to be concluded and enter into force.

But it comes as many countries have struggled to counter the rise of Omicron, which has led to travel bans around the world and sent shockwaves through the stock markets on Friday.

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