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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 
Assembly.

   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 
region.

   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 
binding fashion."

   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.

 
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