Countries must unite in face of future pandemic threat, global leaders say

Boris Johnson holds a vial aloft as he wears a face covering
Boris Johnson holds a vial aloft as he wears a face covering (PA Wire)
8:43am, Tue 30 Mar 2021
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The post-coronavirus world needs to work to protect the health of future generations and deal with future pandemics in a highly co-ordinated fashion, leaders including Boris Johnson have said.

Covid-19 has been a “stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe” and a new treaty for pandemic preparedness and response will be needed to tackle future health crises.

The issue has been raised by Mr Johnson and 23 other world leaders including French and German counterparts Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in a letter printed in the Daily Telegraph and other papers across the world.

But there are some notable names missing from the list, including US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Coronavirus has led to nearly 2.8 million deaths worldwide, according to figures from the Johns Hopkins University, while 127 million people have been infected by the virus first detected in China in late 2019.

The letter said Covid-19 has been the “biggest challenge to the global community since the 1940s”, noting the two world wars brought about an era of co-operation between nation states.

It said: “Today we hold the same hope that, as we fight to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic together, we can build a more robust international health architecture that will protect future generations.

“We believe that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response.

“Such a renewed collective commitment would be a milestone in stepping up pandemic preparedness at the highest political level.”

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

There is a shared commitment to “ensuring universal and equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for this and future pandemics”, it added.

There have been tensions with regard to the vaccine rollout across Europe and the UK.

Talks between the UK and the EU have been ongoing during the last fortnight on issues including jab production, after European Union leaders gave their backing to more stringent vaccine shipment controls as the bloc struggles with its rollout, but stopped short of imposing an export ban.

Downing Street has indicated that coronavirus vaccine supplies will not be shared with other countries until all UK adults have been offered a jab.

Global health leaders have previously warned wealthy countries they need to stop “self-defeating” strategies and instead share their vaccines once they have jabbed their health workers and those most at risk.

A new international treaty would look to improve co-operation across a range of fields, from systems alerting about potential pandemics, to the sharing of data and distribution of vaccines and personal protective equipment.

The letter said: “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.”

European Council president Charles Michel and World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – both of whom have put their names to the letter – are holding a joint press briefing on Tuesday to discuss the proposal for an international pandemic treaty.

Meanwhile, a report into the origins of Covid-19 is due to be released.

There have been concerns about the WHO team’s access to vital data from the Chinese government to inform their findings.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab previously said the British Government would be “pushing” for China to provide full access to its data “not for geopolitical point-scoring or anything like that, but so we can learn the lessons and prevent it ever happening again”.

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