World news – World leaders are calling for a COVID-19 pandemic deal, but few details

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The Associated Press
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LONDON –
More than 20 heads of government and global authorities on Tuesday called for comment on an international pandemic preparedness treaty designed to protect future generations after COVID-19.

However, there were few details to explain how such an agreement could actually force countries to act more cooperatively.

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame proposed « a renewed collective commitment » to the systems of readiness and response through use of the Constitution of the UN Health Department.

« The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one, » Tedros said during a press conference. He said the treaty would provide « a framework for international cooperation and solidarity » and address issues such as surveillance systems and outbreak response.

International health regulations implemented by WHO already exist – and countries can ignore them with little consequence. For example, despite the nations’ obligation to provide critical epidemic data and materials to WHO quickly, China refused to do so when the coronavirus first broke out.

And without enforcement powers, WHO officials had little means to force them to share details, an AP investigation found last year.

Steven Solomon, WHO’s chief legal officer, said the proposed pandemic treaty needed to be ratified by lawmakers in participating countries.

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, first presented the idea of ​​a pandemic treaty at the General Assembly of the United States in December. Michel joined Tedros at the briefing on Tuesday, saying the global community must « build pandemic defenses for future generations that go well beyond today’s crisis. To do this, we need to translate political will into concrete action. »

Gian Luca Burci, a former WHO legal advisor who is now a professor at the Graduate Institute for International Affairs in Geneva, described the proposal as an attempted « big fix » involving information sharing, preparedness and response, and said the concept was « like Christmas. » « Tree, to be honest. « 

« But I run the risk that it will divert attention from the tool we have » – ​​the existing WHO international health regulations, Burci said recently. He said his fear was that these regulations would intervene briefly and « receive cosmetic improvements but remain fundamentally a weak instrument ».

While the 25 signatories to the comment called for « solidarity » and greater « community engagement, » there was no indication that any country would soon change its own approach to responding to the pandemic. China, Russia and the United States have not signed the declaration.

WHO Legal Representative Solomon said the pandemic treaty could also address issues like sharing vaccine technology and supplies, but gave no indication of how that could be done. Despite the WHO’s call for patents to be revoked during the pandemic, rich countries have continued to oppose efforts by poor countries to force them to switch vaccine-making technology.

Tedros asked rich countries last week to donate 10 million COVID-19 vaccines immediately so that vaccination campaigns in all countries can begin within the first 100 days of the year. Not a single country has yet publicly offered to share its vaccines immediately. Of the more than 459 million vaccines administered worldwide, the majority were in just 10 countries – and 28% in just one. The WHO has not identified the countries.

« This powerful idea of ​​a treaty rooted in WHO has led to the & joint statement published today, published in major newspapers around & in multiple languages ​​and signed by 25 Heads of State to date » – @ DrTedros https : //t.co/N9qbGlMRQl #PandemicTreaty

A container of used syringes in a trailer during a mass vaccination event in Metairie, outside of New Orleans on March 29, 2021. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

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