WHO: Omicron Shows Global Accord Need 11/29 06:19
The World Health Organization on Monday is pushing for an international
accord to help prevent and fight future pandemics amid the emergence of a
worrying new omicron COVID-19 variant.
GENEVA (AP) -- The World Health Organization on Monday is pushing for an
international accord to help prevent and fight future pandemics amid the
emergence of a worrying new omicron COVID-19 variant.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said many uncertainties
remain about just how transmissible and severe infection by the highly mutated
omicron might be.
Tedros joined leaders like outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera for a long-planned and largely virtual
special session of the U.N. health agency's member states at the World Health
The gathering is aimed at devising a global action plan toward preventing,
preparing and responding to future pandemics.
"The emergence of the highly mutated omicron variant underlines just how
perilous and precarious our situation is," Tedros said, calling for a "legally
binding" agreement that wasn't mentioned in a draft text seeking consensus on
the way forward. "Indeed, omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new
accord on pandemics."
"Our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to
threats that will inevitably land on their shores," he said, saying that South
Africa and Botswana -- where the new variant was detected in southern Africa --
should be praised and not "penalized" for their work. That was an allusion to
travel restrictions announced by many countries on air travel to and from the
Tedros said WHO scientists and others around the world were working urgently
to decipher the threat post by the new variant, saying: "We don't yet know
whether omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more
risk of infections, or more risk of evading vaccines."
The world should now be "wide awake" to the threat of the coronavirus, "but
omicron's very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might
think we are done with COVID-19. It's not done with us," he added.
A draft resolution set to be adopted by the 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 countries and others had sought language calling for
work toward 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 could require ratification -- and would likely incur domestic political
haggling in some countries.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose 16-year tenure is likely to
end next week, called for "reliable financing" for WHO and increased
contributions to the U.N. agency from its member states -- while alluding to
the EU position in favor of a binding agreement.
"The catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of health and the
economy ought to be a lesson to us," she said by video message. "Viruses know
no national borders. That's precisely why we should lay down measures to be
taken to improve prevention, early detection, and response in internationally
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 meeting that opened Monday amounts to a long-term approach:
Any U.N.-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 omicron that has led to travel bans across the world and sent tremors
through stock markets on Friday.