EU chief Michel seeks international treaty on pandemics

Ciuncil President Charles Michel on 3 December 2020. [Council newsroom]

A European Union chief called Thursday (3 December) for an international treaty on pandemics, urging the world to learn from Covid-19 and be better prepared for the future.

At a virtual UN summit on Covid-19, European Union Council President Charles Michel said a treaty would help coordination on research, information-sharing and equitable access to health care.

“The number of epidemics has increased in recent decades. We knew that the world could potentially be struck by a major pandemic. And yet we were caught unprepared,” Michel said.

“There was therefore a failure of sorts and we need to draw the lessons and the consequences.”

As far as positive lessons, Michel pointed to the “unprecedented global cooperation” on vaccines that has led to their development less than a year after the first Covid-19 cases were reported in China — far quicker than the historical timeframe for vaccines.

A treaty would be within the framework of the World Health Organization with objectives that include better financing and coordination on research, he said.

“Our aim must be to guarantee access to vaccines, treatment and tests for future pandemics. This should be laid down in a treaty,” said Michel, a former prime minister of Belgium.

He called for more extensive monitoring of infectious diseases in other animals, the most common pathway to pandemics that affect humans.

The treaty could also spur the development of a “more extensive scale of alert levels” when future pandemics arise, he said.

A formal treaty would likely face difficulty in the United States, where a two-thirds vote in the Senate is required for treaty ratification.

Outgoing President Donald Trump has refused to take part in vaccine-sharing efforts and started the withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization, which he charged was beholden to China.

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