A special session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) kicked off in Geneva on Monday amid growing concerns over the latest Omicron coronavirus variant, where the participants aimed to negotiate a new “pandemic treaty.”
The WHA May session this year decided to set up a working group to consider the findings and recommendations of a number of panels and committees on global preparedness for and response to Covid-19 before starting their discussions on Monday on the potential new “legally binding agreement between nations.”
“Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in the global architecture for pandemic preparedness and response,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the opening of the special session.
“The best way we can address them is with a legally binding agreement between nations, an accord forged from the recognition that we have no future but a common future,” he said.
Tedros said the new “pandemic treaty” is expected to address Covid-19 as “a crisis of solidarity and sharing.”
“The lack of sharing of PPE (personal protective equipment), tests, vaccines, technology, know-how, intellectual property and other tools hindered our collective ability to prevent infections and save lives,” he said, noting the lack of a consistent and coherent global approach has resulted in “a splintered and disjointed response, breeding misunderstanding, misinformation and mistrust.”
The WHA special session coincides with the emergence of the highly mutated Omicron virus variant, which was designated by the WHO as a “variant of concern” (VOC) just three days ago.
Though the WHO has said it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe disease than the other known variants, including Delta, concerns over its impact on the efficacy of existing vaccines and treatments have been growing.
A number of countries have already introduced entry bans on travelers from South Africa, where Omicron was first confirmed on November 9 and has been identified in multiple European countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Sweden.
“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,” Tedros said.