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In the wake of the appearance of a concerning new omicron COVID-19 strain, the World Health Organization is calling for an international agreement to help prevent and battle future pandemics.
According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, many questions remain concerning how transmissible, and severe infection by the highly altered Omicron might be.
Tedros joined outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera at the World Health Assembly for a long-planned and mainly virtual special session of the UN health agency’s member states.
The meeting’s goal is to develop a global strategy for preventing, preparing for, and responding to future pandemics.
“The appearance of the highly mutated Omicron version highlights exactly how risky and unstable our situation is,” Tedros said, pushing for a “legally binding” agreement that wasn’t referenced in a draught document seeking consensus on the next steps. “Indeed, Omicron exemplifies why the world needs a new pandemic agreement.”
“Our existing system disincentivizes countries from warning others about threats that will inevitably appear on their shores,” he said, adding that South Africa and Botswana, where the new variety was discovered, should be applauded rather than “penalised” for their efforts. That was a reference to various governments’ announcements of travel restrictions on air travel to and from the region.
“We don’t yet know whether Omicron is connected with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of infections, or more risk of evading vaccines,” Tedros said, adding that WHO scientists and others around the world were working feverishly to decipher the threat posed by the new variety.
Now is the time for the world to be. “Omicron’s emergence is another reminder that, while many of us think we’re done with COVID-19, we’re not.” It’s not over with us yet,” Added he.
A draught resolution to be voted by the World Health Assembly falls short of directly asking for work on establishing a “pandemic treaty” or “legally binding document,” as some have suggested, which may strengthen the worldwide response if — not if — a new pandemic breaks out.
Members of the European Union and others wanted language that called for progress toward a treaty. Still, the US and a few other countries protested that the substance of any agreement should be worked out first before a name is given to it.
A “treaty” would imply a legally binding agreement that would require ratification in some nations and would almost certainly result in domestic political wrangling in others.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose 16-year term is set to end next week, called for “stable financing” for WHO and greater contributions from member nations to the UN organization, pointing to the EU’s support for a binding deal.
“The COVID-19 pandemic’s disastrous impact on health and the economy should serve as a lesson to us,” she said via video message. “Viruses have no regard for national boundaries.
That is precisely why we should establish internationally enforceable policies to increase prevention, early identification, and reaction.”
The British ambassador in Geneva, Simon Manley, tweeted a copy of the draught document, which was adopted by agreement as required by WHO guidelines on such problems, and commended Chile and Australia for their work as co-chairs.
“The #Omicron variant demonstrates yet again why we need a shared understanding of how we prepare for and respond to pandemics, so we’re all on the same page,” he wrote.
The draught contains no mention of the word “treaty.” Still, it does call for the establishment of an “intergovernmental negotiating committee” among WHO member states to hammer out a prospective agreement to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, among other things.
The three-day summit, which began on Monday, represents a long-term strategy: any UN-backed accord will likely take months, if not years, to finalize and implement.
However, it comes as several governments scramble to deal with the development of Omicron, which has resulted in travel bans throughout the world and had global markets trembling on Friday.
Source: CTV News
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