December 6, 2022

World Health Assembly special session opens amid Omicron variant scare, imposition of travel bans, debate over science versus politics

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The Special Session of the World Health Assembly opened in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday amid the Omicron variant scare, the imposition of travel bans and the debate over whether countries should follow scientific evidence or bow to political realities.

“Member States will consider one agenda item – the need for a WHO convention, agreement or other international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response with a view towards the establishment of an international process to draft and negotiate such a convention taking into account the report of the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies,” the WHO said in a note.

However, Omicron, a strain of the coronavirus with a large number of mutations is likely to dominate the discussions as countries as countries weigh between prevention and cure.

The Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana on November 11 and reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa on November 24 after it began spreading rapidly in Gauteng province, a predominantly urban area containing the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Since then, the variant has been found in several countries, including in the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium and elsewhere.

But health officials have cautioned that hasty bans were not the solution to ending the pandemic, and have emphasized that richer countries should focus on equal distribution of vaccines to developing countries.

Below is the list of speakers for the WHASS2 opening ceremony:

  • H.E Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
  • Alain Berset, Conseiller Federal Suisse (pre-recorded)
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel ( pre-recorded)
  • President of Chile, H.E Sebastian Pinera (pre-recorded)
  • Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa (pre-recorded)
  • President of the Republic of Nauru, H.E. Lionel Rouwen Aingimea (pre-recorded)
  • President of the European Council, H.E Charles Michel (virtual live)
  • President of the European Commission. H.E Ursula von der Leyen (virtual live)
  • Chief Executive Officer, CEPI, Dr Richard Hatchett (virtual live)
  • Chair of the steering Committee of GOARN, Mr Dale Fisher (pre-recorded)
  • Director-General’s Address
  • Opening remarks from the Vice-President of the Assembly
  • Formal opening of the WHASS2 (Special Procedures, adoption of agenda and appointment of Credentials Committee)

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