British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta are among about two dozen world leaders who have signed onto a letter calling for an international agreement to “dispel the temptations of isolationism and nationalism” as part of an effort to prepare for future pandemics.
However, given a lack of international coordination that has beset the current coronavirus pandemic and an ongoing tussle over vaccine deliveries to combat COVID-19, whether such a treaty could be reached or adhered to is an open question.
In the letter published Tuesday in newspapers around the world, the leaders — which include others in Europe, Africa and Asia and World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — called COVID-19 the biggest global challenge since the 1940s. It said an international settlement similar to the one that ended World War II was needed to address the problem.
“[F]ollowing the devastation of two world wars, political leaders came together to forge the multilateral system,” the leaders wrote in the letter that appeared in the U.K.’s The Telegraph, Le Monde in France and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany, among others.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” the leaders wrote. “We are, therefore, committed to ensuring universal and equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for this and future pandemics.”
“Our solidarity in ensuring that the world is better prepared will be our legacy that protects our children and grandchildren and [minimizes] the impact of future pandemics on our economies and our societies,” they said.
The United States, Russia and China did not sign the letter.
This development comes as much of Europe is struggling to get enough vaccines and as the European Union and a post-Brexit U.K. are locked in a dispute over vaccine deliveries.
Earlier this month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said AstraZeneca, the British-based drugmaker supplying the EU, was at risk of breaching its obligations to European countries.
“That is the message to AstraZeneca,” she told reporters. “You fulfill your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries.'”
Last week, the U.K.’s Johnson warned his EU counterparts that a vaccine trade war between the EU and United Kingdom could cause “considerable” and “long-term” economic damage.
Also, Merkel backtracked last week on a plan to extend Germany’s COVID-19 lockdown through the Easter holiday. The chancellor had warned that Germany was facing “a new pandemic” amid rising infection rates and new coronavirus variants. However, she later called the plan a “mistake” and personally took the blame for the decision, which she said did not take economic factors into full account.
In their letter, the leaders said a new treaty would establish systems for an early warning about potential pandemics and streamline the sharing of vital data and the distribution of vaccines and personal protective equipment – all seen as areas where the international community fell short in the early days of the spread of the coronavirus.
“There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone. The question is not if, but when,” the letter said.