WHA to hold pandemic treaty talks in November

WHO headquarters building in Geneva
WHO headquarters building in Geneva

US Mission Geneva / Flickr cc

Country delegates at the World Health Assembly (WHA) today came to a consensus on holding a special session in November to consider an international treaty on pandemic preparedness, with the goal of shoring up political commitment in the battle against infectious disease outbreaks.

In other global developments, US officials issued new warnings that recommend against travel to Japan as it grapples with a COVID-19 surge ahead of the Olympics, and India's daily case total dropped to its lowest level in 6 weeks.

November session to consider pandemic treaty

An urgent call for a pandemic treaty was first aired at the end of March, with support from the heads of 25 governments and international groups, including the World Health Organization (WHO). Leaders published a commentary outlining the need for such a treaty in several newspapers, warning that there will be more pandemics and other health emergencies in the future, and no single government or international group is equipped to address the threat alone.

Also, a recent independent review panel report on the world's response to the pandemic recommended a pandemic treaty as a tool—alongside a more independent WHO and a Global Health Threats Council— to provide stronger leadership and better coordination.

In a draft resolution today, countries asked the their working group on strengthening WHO preparedness and response to assess the benefits of developing a treaty or other international instrument for consideration at a special session to be held Nov 29 through Dec 1.

In another WHA development today, US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, JD, in an address to the group, called for the second phase of a probe into the origin of SARS-CoV-2 with terms that are transparent, science-based, and give investigators independence to fully assess the source of the virus in its early days.

Becerra's comments come in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report, citing a previously undisclosed US intelligence report, that said three staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care for symptoms similar to COVID-19 before the outbreak was detected.

The new details raised more questions about the possibility of a lab leak, and yesterday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the information came from a foreign source and needs to be independently verified.

In other comments, Becerra thanked global health officials and frontline health workers, called for a more sustainable global health financing mechanism and for developing surge capacity for making personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccines, treatments, and tests.

The WHA, made up of member states, is the WHO's decision-making body. This year's meeting runs through Jun 1, with the pandemic as one of the main topics.

US officials urge no travel to Japan

With an ongoing steady surge of cases and the Summer Olympics 2 months away, US officials urged people not to travel to Japan. The US State Department issued a level 4 warning due to very high COVID-19 levels, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its highest travel warning for Japan, recommending that people avoid all travel, even those who are fully vaccinated, due to the risk of contracting and spreading variant viruses.

Public support for the Summer Olympics in Japan is sagging as the country struggles with its latest surge, and some doctors groups have called for the Games to be cancelled over COVID-19 spread and the added burden the event would place on already-stretched health systems.

Olympic officials, though, have vowed to press forward with the Games, ensuring that health protocols are in place.

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee told Reuters that it is aware of the State Department advisory but feels that Team USA athletes can safety participate with its protocols and those of the host country committee.

More global headlines

  • India's daily cases today dropped below 300,000, reaching the lowest level in 6 weeks, according to Reuters, which also said the country is still experiencing an acute vaccine shortage, with only 3% of the country's population vaccinated. The country is evacuating people on its east coast ahead of another cyclone, which comes just a week after a cyclone battered its west coast.

  • As expected, Taiwan today announced that it is extending its COVID-19 alert at its second-highest level for 3 more weeks due to its ongoing battle against the virus, its worst of the pandemic, according to CNN.

  • Australia today reported five more local COVID-19 cases, raising the number of cases in a new cluster to nine, according to Reuters. All are members of the same extended family, and health officials are still looking for the source of the virus.

  • The global total today rose to 167,320,192 cases, along with 3,471,998 deaths, according to the New York Times tracker.

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