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Pandemic treaty opponents ‘peddling misinformation’, says public health expert

(Stefan Rousseau/PA)
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Politicians who claim an international pandemic treaty will allow global health leaders to impose lockdowns in certain countries are “peddling misinformation”, a leading expert has said.

Global health leaders will discuss a draft version of the treaty next week at the World Health Assembly.

Some MPs have called on the Government to allow Parliament to review and vote on the global pandemic preparedness treaty before the UK becomes a signatory.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said claims that the agreement will give it power to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates are “false”.

Reports suggest that UK officials have been resistant to proposals on vaccine commitments.

Before the meeting of global health leaders, Professor Liam Smeeth, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the PA news agency: “There are activists who want to peddle misinformation about the pandemic agreement, or treaty, when both the WHO and UK Government ministers are in total agreement that sovereign national decision-making on health threats would never be impacted.

“The pandemic agreement is negotiated between the member states themselves which retain the sovereign right to legislate health policies as they see fit – this is about the countries of the world coming together to fight the next pandemic. To suggest anything else is utter nonsense.

“By listening to such misinformation, we are at risk of abandoning all the lessons we learned during the pandemic about the vital importance of working together to combat a global disease threat. Lethal viruses take no notice of national borders or political grandstanding.

“We don’t know what the next deadly outbreak will be or when the world will face a new pandemic. We do know that every one of us is at risk from the numerous threats that exist (and) co-ordination across borders is vital.

“Making sure everyone has access to vaccines is vital. Because our shared future depends on our shared health.”

He added: “To stand a fighting chance in the future, we need to unite behind these priorities against the target we all have in common: the next pandemic.

“A global threat demands a global response and the WHO is at the heart of co-ordinating the efforts of governments, health agencies and communities around the world to stop outbreaks in their tracks before they can become another pandemic.

“Agreeing to work together does not equate to giving up power. Indeed, it would be hugely damaging to not grab this opportunity, find ways to defend ourselves and to commit to sharing data, know-how and resources on a global scale while we can.”

The WHO has proposed a convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response, intended to “ensure communities, governments and all sectors of society – within countries and globally – are better prepared and protected”.

Leo Varadkar press conference
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Niall Carson/PA)

The organisation’s intergovernmental negotiating body will compile a draft of the accord and will submit its outcome to the 77th World Health Assembly, which will take place between May 27 and June 1.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus director-general of the WHO, said: “The pandemic agreement focuses on strengthening co-ordination for an international response to pandemics, with equitable access to personal protective equipment, vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics at the core.

“Along with strengthened international health regulations, the pandemic agreement remains our best shot, and indeed our generational opportunity, at making sure next time a virus hits, we have a plan to get critical health tools to people quickly, effectively and fairly.

“It will save lives and I’m asking country leaders to give it one last big push to get it over the line next week.”