The World Health Organisation has agreed to launch negotiations on an international pact to prevent and control future pandemics as the world gears up to battle the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Such an agreement to beef up measures to prevent and fight pandemics is expected to be ready in May 2024.
It will cover issues from data sharing and genome sequencing of emerging viruses to potential vaccines and drugs derived from research.
Wednesday’s decision was adopted by consensus at a special ministerial assembly of the 194 nations that are members of the UN health body, drawing applause from delegations at the end of a three-day meeting.
Australia’s ambassador Sally Mansfield, who co-chaired the working group, said consensus had been reached after extensive discussions, frank exchanges and compromises.
“Let us move forward together in solidarity to do the hard work that we have ahead of us,” she said.
The EU had pushed for agreement on an international legally binding treaty, along with about 70 countries, but Brazil, India and the US were among those reluctant to commit to such a pact, diplomats said.
More than 262.22 million people have been reported infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, and 5.46 million killed since it emerged in China in December 2019.
The WHO says China has still not shared some of its early data that might help pinpoint the origin of the virus.
The US welcomed the decision on the talks for the agreement which it co-sponsored.
“This momentous step represents our collective responsibility to work together to advance health security and to make the global health system stronger and more responsive,” its UN mission in Geneva said in a statement on Wednesday.
In parallel to the negotiations on a pandemic instrument, the US committed to working with other members on “targeted amendments” to the 2005 International Health Regulations, it said.
The measures would aim to boost implementation and compliance on issues such as “early warning alerts, timely information sharing, and rapid risk assessment”, it added.