In the wake of the appearance of a concerning new Omicron COVID-19 form, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for an international agreement to help avoid and combat future pandemics.
Many uncertainties remain, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 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 come up with 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 in southern Africa, should be commended 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.