Member nations of the World Health Organization have approved a plan to negotiate the terms of an international pandemic response treaty.
Attendees at the closing session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva voted Monday on resolution to create a special WHO assembly session in November aimed at reaching a treaty or convention that would help nations better prepare and respond to a potential pandemic similar to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The ongoing outbreak has sickened over 170 million people around the world and led to more than 3.5 million deaths since it was first detected in central China in late 2019.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told attendees “the time has come” for such a treaty, saying it would strengthen both the U.N. health agency and global health security as a whole. He said it will address “the lack of sharing of data, information, technologies and resources” that marked the sluggish response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issue of a global pandemic response treaty was one of several reforms taken up during the weeklong event, although they will not be voted on until the World Health Assembly meets again next year.
Organizers of the Copa America soccer tournament announced Monday it was moving the upcoming event to Brazil due to a surge of new COVID-19 infections in Argentina, which was co-hosting with Colombia. The news was greeted with skepticism by some in Brazil, which trails only the United States and India in the total number of coronavirus cases more than 13.5 million, and is second only to the U.S. in deaths at over 462,000.
Scientists are concerned about hosting a tournament in a nation with a more transmissible COVID-19 variant, with many predicting another wave of the disease to hit the country in a matter of weeks. Some opposition politicians are threatening to file an injunction with the Brazilian Supreme Court to block the tournament.
President Jair Bolsonaro has come under heavy criticism for his apparently dismissive attitude toward the pandemic, and is the subject of a congressional investigation over his government’s management of the crisis.
Meanwhile, Australia’s women’s Olympic softball team on Monday became the first to arrive in Japan to begin preparations for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, which is also under a cloud due to a new wave of COVID-19 infections across the country and a slow rate of vaccinations, generating strong public opposition against going through with the Games.
Foreign spectators are barred from attending the Olympics, which begin July 23, and a Japanese newspaper reported Monday the government may require potential spectators to either have to show proof they received a COVID-19 vaccine or tested negative for the virus.