World leaders call for new international pandemic treaty

Twenty-five world leaders have supported a proposal from European Council President Charles Michel to draw up a new international treaty on pandemic preparedness in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

Leaders including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed an opinion piece along with Michel and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, dpa news agency reported.

“There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone,” the piece, published on Tuesday, said.

The article made the case for a new agreement anchored in the WHO’s constitution that would improve global preparedness for pandemics and ability to respond.

A treaty would provide a framework for international cooperation to immediately exchange information at the start of possible pandemics, and channel global resources for research into possible treatments and vaccines, Michel said at a virtual press conference with Tedros on Tuesday.

“The time to act is now,” Tedros said, “We must not allow the memories of this crisis to fade and go back to business as usual.”

Michel first put forward the idea in November, but has now won public support from heads of state or government from Indonesia, Kenya, Costa Rica, Tunisia and South Korea, among others.

However, notable omissions from the article’s signatories include the US and China.

Initial reaction among the 194 WHO member countries was “positive”, according to Tedros, who said he hoped all would help take forward debate on the initiative ahead of May’s World Health Assembly.

It was too soon to say whether the treaty could cover contentious issues such as intellectual property on vaccines or more equitable sharing of shots, the WHO chief added.