Exclusive: World leaders call for pandemic treaty

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Lucy Fisher
·6 min read
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Mr Johnson and other world leaders said the virus pandemic has been 'a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe' - Hollie Adams/AFP Pool
Mr Johnson and other world leaders said the virus pandemic has been 'a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe' - Hollie Adams/AFP Pool
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

The world needs a global settlement like that forged after the Second World War to protect countries in the wake of Covid, Boris Johnson and other world leaders have said.

Writing for The Telegraph on Tuesday, Mr Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said the virus pandemic had been "a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe".

Amid growing international tension over vaccine supplies, they called for an end to isolationism and nationalism in favour of a new era of solidarity.

The call by 24 world leaders alongside Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, is made in The Telegraph and newspapers across the world including Le Monde in France, El Pais in Spain and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany.

The leaders said a treaty akin to the settlement forged in the aftermath of the war was needed to build cross-border co-operation ahead of the next international health crisis, describing Covid as "the biggest challenge to the global community since the 1940s".

They wrote: "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."

A treaty on pandemics "should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and co-operation within the international system and with its rules and norms", the leaders said.

The joint article comes in the wake of deepening strain between Britain and the European Union over the production and distribution of Covid vaccines.

The European Commission has threatened to block shipments of potentially millions of AstraZeneca jabs from the company's Halix plant in the Netherlands to the UK following fury in Brussels about the company falling short in its deliveries so far this year.

On Monday night, Mr Johnson unveiled his latest move to ensure the resilience of the UK's domestic vaccine supply chains amid the threat of jabs trade wars.

He announced that the Government's vaccine taskforce had clinched a deal with the British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline to "fill and finish" 60 million doses of the new Novavax vaccine at a plant in Barnard Castle in the North-East.

The agreement removes the need for doses of Novavax – which Mr Johnson called "a potentially significant new weapon in our armoury against Covid" – to be sent to Germany to be put in vials.

A Downing Street source said the move was motivated in part by a desire to pour investment into the UK's domestic vaccine manufacturing capability, while also making the nation's vaccine supplies "more secure".

The Novavax jab has undergone phase three clinical trials and is expected to be approved by the UK medicines regulator in the coming weeks. It is expected that doses will start being processed in the UK from May.

Mr Johnson acknowledged that Monday was a "big day" for many Britons as they were allowed to see friends and family outdoors for the first time since the most recent lockdown began in January.

Lockdown end dates
Lockdown end dates

The Prime Minister stressed the "importance of everybody maintaining the discipline people have shown for so long" and warned that it was unclear "how robust our defences are against another wave". He declined to rule out another lockdown, but said he was "hopeful" that the one from which the country was beginning to emerge would be the last.

He has been a leading advocate of a new global pandemic agreement and last month directly petitioned fellow G7 leaders to back the proposal. The alliance agreed to "explore the potential value" of the idea, which is set to be discussed further at a summit in Cornwall in June.

His emphasis on the need for better health data-sharing between countries follows concerns about China withholding information and access from global health inspectors as they examined the origins and progression of Covid.

On Monday it emerged that the long-awaited WHO report on the origins of the virus had concluded that a leak from a laboratory, while possible, was "extremely unlikely".

The report, seen by The Telegraph, concluded that Covid was most likely to have been passed from bats via an "intermediate animal host" to humans before sparking an "explosive outbreak" in Wuhan in December 2019.

The repeatedly delayed report was finally sent to all WHO member states on Sunday evening. The 123-page document presented detailed studies of morbidity, cases, pharmacy records, food samples and genetic sequencing from in and around Wuhan in late 2019, "to better understand how the virus might have been introduced and started".

It found no firm evidence to distract from the already established idea that the pandemic started in Wuhan in or around that December, and that the Huanan wet market either sparked or "amplified" the outbreak.

In their article, the 24 world leaders warned that regardless of the origins of the outbreak, a future global pandemic was an inevitability.

The group, also including Charles Michel, the European Council president, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, and the presidents of South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, Tunisia and Senegal, said the key question was not "if but when" the next health crisis would strike.

They warned that "no single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone", arguing: "Together, we must be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and effectively respond to pandemics in a highly co-ordinated fashion."

Other central aims of a pandemic agreement would be to enhance international co-operation around alert systems, data-sharing and research, as well as the local, regional and global production and distribution of vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.

It comes as governments engage in fresh rounds of talks about the prospect of a pact ahead of health ministers convening at the World Health Assembly in May. A resolution outlining plans for the WHO to strengthen its pandemic preparedness and response framework is set to be tabled at the meeting, along with a proposal for a working group to negotiate an international treaty.

The world leaders' proposed new treaty would be rooted in the constitution of the WHO, which could draw in other relevant organisations, and would support the principle of "health for all". The International Health Regulations and other existing global health frameworks would underpin the treaty, ensuring "a firm and tested foundation".

"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 cooperation that extends beyond this crisis," the leaders said.

"Building our capacities and systems to do this will take time and require a sustained political, financial and societal commitment over many years."