WHO members eye pandemic preparation as new variant emerges

The logo of the World Health Organization, WHO, is displayed at the headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 15, 2020.
The logo of the World Health Organization, WHO, is displayed at the headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 15, 2020. Copyright Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP, file
By AP
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

The World Health Organization opened a special session of member states to discuss ways to better prepare globally to fight pandemics like COVID-19.

ADVERTISEMENT

The World Health Organization opened a long-planned special session of member states to discuss ways to strengthen the global fight against pandemics like the coronavirus, just as the worrying new Omicron variant has sparked immediate concerns worldwide.

In the wake of diplomatic wrangling, a draft resolution at the special World Health Assembly stops short of calling for work toward specifically establishing a “pandemic treaty" or “legally binding instrument” sought by some, which could beef up the international response when — not if — a new pandemic erupts.

European Union member states and others had sought language calling for work towards a treaty, but the United States and a few other countries countered that the substance of any accord should be worked out first before any such document is given a name. A “treaty” would suggest a legally binding agreement that would require ratification — and would likely incur domestic political haggling in some countries.

Britain's ambassador in Geneva, Simon Manley, tweeted a copy of the draft text that was agreed by consensus — as required under WHO rules on such issues — and praised Chile and Australia for their work as co-chairs.

“The #Omicron variant shows yet again why we need a common understanding of how we prepare for and respond to pandemics, so we’re all playing by the same rules," he wrote.

The draft makes no reference to the word “treaty” but, among other things, calls for the creation of an “intergovernmental negotiating body” among WHO member states to work out a possible deal to improve pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

The three-day, largely virtual meeting that opens on Monday amounts to a long-term approach: Any UN-backed agreement is likely to take many months, if not years, to be concluded and come into effect.

But it comes as many countries have been scrambling to address the emergence of the new omicron variant that has led to travel bans across the world and sent tremors through stock markets on Friday.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Omicron: Couple arrested in Netherlands after escaping COVID hotel quarantine

Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon says she felt 'overwhelmed' by COVID pandemic during testimony

US carry out attacks on Houthi, WHO struggling to reach hospitals