UK PM Boris Johnson calls for world pandemic treaty to ensure transparency

Mr Johnson to set out plans for gradually easing England's lockdown

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 15: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks during a Covid-19 media briefing in Downing Street on February 15, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, set to lay out plans for gradually removing England's lockdown next week, said on Monday that world powers should agree a global treaty on pandemics to ensure proper transparency for future outbreaks.

“We want this lockdown to be the last,” he said. “We want progress to be cautious but irreversible.”

Mr Johnson said he would be keen on a pact where countries agreed to share data amid British and US concern over access given to a World Health Organisation mission to China.

"I think what the world needs to see is a general agreement on how we track data surrounding zoonotic pandemics and we want a joint agreement on transparency," Mr Johnson told Reuters.

"I think one of the attractive ideas that we have seen in the past few months has been a proposal for a global treaty on pandemics, so signatory countries make sure they contribute all the data they have and we are able to get to the bottom of what's happened and stop it happening again.

"That is the sensible thing to do."

European Council President Charles Michel wrote on Twitter that he welcomed "the support of Boris Johnson to work together on a pandemic treaty to improve global preparedness, resilience and recovery".

As part of Britain's presidency of the Group of Seven wealthy nations, Mr Johnson wants to lead efforts on a global approach to pandemics, including an early warning system.

There will be a video conference of G7 leaders on Friday.

The Covid-19 outbreak, which was first detected in China in late 2019, has killed 2.4 million people, tipped the global economy into its worst peacetime slump since the Great Depression and upended normal life for billions of people.

Britain's foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday he shared US concerns about the level of access given to a World Health Organisation Covid-19 fact-finding mission to China.

Mr Johnson has said he supports US President Joe Biden in the need for more data from the investigation.

"I think it's fairly obvious that most of the evidence seems to point to the disease having originated in Wuhan," he said.

"Therefore I think we all need to see as much as we possibly can about how that might have happened, the zoonotic questions that people are asking. I think we need as much data as possible."

As part of the government’s efforts to work collaboratively against the pandemic, the UK has committed £548 million ($763m) to the global Covax initiative, making it the largest single donor.

The Covax initiative is the key way that more than 180 countries will have fair, early access to Covid-19 vaccines.

It hopes to have delivered more than 2 billion doses around the world by the end of 2021.

The UK has encouraged other countries to contribute more than $1 billion to Covax.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month warned "the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure" because of unequal vaccine policies that were leaving the poorest countries behind.

The UK’s inoculation programme using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine caused tension with the EU in January, as the union awaited the arrival of its own supplies.

Britain signed a deal first with AstraZeneca in May 2020 to supply vaccines, with the EU following three months later.

But the drug maker encountered supply problems, which it blamed on issues at one plant in Belgium and another in the Netherlands.

Reports suggested deliveries to the EU would be cut by 60 per cent in the first quarter of 2021.

This prompted criticism from the EU, which said it should not receive fewer doses just because the UK signed a contract earlier.

AstraZeneca said the fact that the bloc's contracts were signed later left less time to resolve problems in the supply chain.

It said its agreement with the EU allowed the option of supplying Europe from UK sites, but only when the UK had sufficient supplies.

This led the EU to announce it was introducing export controls on vaccines made in the bloc.

The move sparked fury in the UK and Ireland after the EU said it would use emergency Brexit measures to prevent the vaccines from moving across the open Irish border into Northern Ireland.

Brussels quickly backtracked on the idea.

The stand-off was eventually resolved when AstraZeneca agreed to deliver an extra nine million vaccines to the EU ahead of schedule and expand its manufacturing operation in Europe.

Six weeks into a third UK lockdown, the government is celebrating its success at starting one of the fastest vaccination programmes in the world, and looking at how to revive an economy battered by deep recession.

The government has provided vaccines to the 15 million most vulnerable people and their carers, and has started offering shots to younger age groups, in a crucial milestone for emerging from the pandemic.

Mr Johnson said on Monday he hoped to draw up plans to lift national pandemic restrictions on socialising, shopping and travelling to work, including possible target dates.

His priority will be to try to reopen schools from March 8, but no decision has yet been made on whether all age groups will return to classrooms at the same time.

Mr Johnson said he would unveil the earliest dates for removing restrictions from other sectors “if we possibly can".