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World leaders call for treaty on future pandemics

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has joined more than twenty world leaders in calling for a new global settlement to help the world prepare for future pandemics.

In a newspaper article the leaders, including the German chancellor and French president, said Covid-19 posed the biggest challenge since world war two.

The pandemic has shown “nobody is safe until everyone is safe”, they said.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph and publications such as Le Monde in France and El Pais in Spain, the 24 leaders argue that a treaty similar to that reached in the wake of world war two is needed to build cross-border cooperation.

The signatories, who include the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “At that time, following the devastation of two world wars, political leaders came together to forge the multilateral system.

“The aims were clear. To bring countries together, to dispel the temptations of isolationism and nationalism and to address the challenges that could only be achieved together in the spirit of solidarity and co-operation namely peace, prosperity, health and security.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the other leaders said that in the same spirit, countries must now “be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and effectively respond to pandemics in a highly coordinated fashion”.

A new treaty would help to establish better systems for alerting people about potential pandemics, they said, while also improving the sharing of data and distribution of vaccines and personal protective equipment.

“There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone. The question is not if, but when.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

The letter added: “At a time when Covid-19 has exploited our weaknesses and divisions, we must seize this opportunity and come together as a global community for peaceful co-operation that extends beyond this crisis.”

While the concept of an international vaccine treaty suggests cosy cooperation, elsewhere there is quite the battle going on between the signatories of this letter over the issue of the blueprints to the new vaccines.

South Africa and India are leading dozens of mainly developing countries seeking a temporary pandemic waiver to global rules protecting the technology and recipes for Covid vaccines.

Without these rules, they say they have the capacity to manufacture more vaccine doses.

Over the past few months, wealthier countries including the UK, the US and the EU have repeatedly blocked a waiver.

The argument is that the pharmaceutical companies have performed well in getting a vaccine into arms within a year, and need to be able to have the incentive of making money out of this innovation in years to come.

The drugs companies say the bottleneck is not the patents, but the ability to manufacture globally.

The big unknown factors here are suggestions that the Biden administration might be about to change sides in this battle for vaccines.

That would mark a stunning change, and leave the UK and the EU under pressure to change tack, or at least to put more flesh on the bones of the goal of this treaty that the pandemic will not be over until it is over for everyone.

The joint article comes in the wake of disagreement between the UK and the EU over vaccines after the bloc introduced tougher export controls on jabs produced there.

The UK and the World Health Organization warned against blockades, while the EU blamed pharmaceutical companies primarily AstraZeneca for not delivering promised doses.

 

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