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The World Health Organization is pushing for an international agreement on Monday to help prevent and fight future pandemics amid the emergence of a worrying new omicron COVID-19 variant.

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said that there remain many uncertainties about how contagious and serious infection by the highly mutated Omicron can be.

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Tedros joined leaders such as outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera for a long-planned and largely virtual special session of UN health agency member states at the World Health Assembly.

The purpose of the gathering is to create a global action plan towards preventing, preparing, and responding to future pandemics.

Tedros called the agreement “legally binding”, saying “the emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underscores how dangerous and precarious our position is.” “Indeed, O’Micron demonstrates why the world needs a new agreement on pandemics.”

FILE – World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a ceremony to launch a multi-year partnership with Qatar to make the FIFA Football World Cup 2022 and mega sporting events healthy and safe at WHO Headquarters .

“Our current system prevents countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” he said, adding that South Africa and Botswana – where the new variant was detected in southern Africa – are to be praised. and should not be “punished” for them. Work. This was an indication of the travel restrictions announced by several countries on air travel to and from the region.

Tedros said WHO scientists and others around the world were working urgently to understand the threat postulated by the new version, adding: “We don’t know yet whether omicrons are responsible for greater transmission, more severe disease, infection.” Whether associated with greater risk, or greater risk of avoiding vaccines.”

The world must now be “widely awake” to the threat of the coronavirus,” but Omicron’s emergence is another reminder that although many of us may think we are done with COVID-19. It is with us It hasn’t been done,” he said.

related: Biden to address Omicron edition on Monday, as countries scramble to contain cases

A draft resolution to be adopted by the World Health Assembly specifically refrains from calling for work toward establishing a “pandemic treaty” or “legally binding instrument” sought by some, which would spur an international response. Maybe when – otherwise – a new epidemic breaks out.

The language was sought by EU member states and others working towards a treaty, but the United States and some other countries objected that any such document should be named. The essence of any agreement must be worked out first. A “treaty” would suggest a legally binding agreement that may require ratification – and would likely lead to domestic political bargaining in some countries.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose 16-year term is likely to end next week, called for “credible funding” for the WHO and increased contributions to the UN agency from its member states – while parties to a binding agreement. Referring to the position of the European Union in .

“The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of health and economy should be a lesson for us,” she said by video message. “Viruses know no national borders. This is why we must set out measures to improve prevention, early detection and response in an internationally binding fashion.”

Britain’s ambassador to Geneva, Simon Manley, tweeted a copy of the draft text, which was unanimously agreed – as required under WHO rules on such issues – and thanked Chile and China for his work as co-chairs. Praised Australia.

“The #Omicron variant again shows why we need a common understanding of how we prepare and react to pandemics, so we are all playing by the same rules,” he wrote .

The draft makes no reference to the word “treaty”, but serves as an “intergovernmental negotiating body” between WHO member states to work on a potential deal to improve pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, among other things. calls for construction.

The three-day meeting that began on Monday equates to a long-term outlook: any UN-backed agreement could take several months, if not years, to conclude and take effect.

But it comes as several countries are scrambling to address the emergence of Omicron, which has led to a worldwide travel ban and sent shockwaves through stock markets on Friday.

related: South African doctor says Omicron type symptoms ‘uncommon but mild’