EXCLUSIVE EU wants pandemic treaty to ban wildlife markets and reward virus detection

  • EU wants pandemic treaty with measures to strengthen prevention
  • Negotiators responsible for drafting the text meet on Wednesday for the first time
  • In side talks, US calls for reform of virus alert rules

BRUSSELS, Feb 9 (Reuters) – The European Union is pushing for a global deal to prevent further pandemics that could include a ban on wildlife markets and incentives for countries to report new viruses or variants, a an EU official told Reuters.

International negotiators will meet for the first time on Wednesday to prepare talks for a possible treaty, said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media and therefore declined to be named.

The aim is to reach a preliminary agreement by August.

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However, Brussels has so far struggled to gain full support for a new treaty from the United States and other major countries, some of whom want any deal to be non-binding. Read more

A spokesman for Charles Michel, the president of the European Council who in November 2020 proposed a new pandemic treaty, said he had no new comment on the matter.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the most widely accepted theory, the COVID-19 pandemic began with the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from animal to human at a wildlife market in China.

Although Beijing was initially praised by the World Health Organization (WHO) for promptly notifying it of the new virus, the United States has notably accused China of withholding information about the likely origins of the outbreak.

Among the measures the EU wants to see in the treaty is a gradual closure of wildlife markets, the EU official said.

Incentives for countries to report new viruses are also considered crucial to help with rapid detection and avoid cover-ups.

Last year, southern African countries were hit with punitive flight restrictions after they identified the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which some say could deter reporting of future outbreaks if the incentives are not attractive enough.

VACCINES FOR VIRUS ALERT

The official said the incentives could include guaranteed access to drugs and vaccines developed against new viruses, which poorer countries have struggled to get quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic as wealthier states grow. rushed to secure supplies.

States that detect and report a new virus could also receive immediate support, which could involve shipments of medical equipment from a global stockpile.

The talks will involve delegates from six countries, representing major regions of the world – Japan, the Netherlands, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Thailand, officials said.

Brazil, which will represent the countries of North and South America, is in favor of a non-binding treaty. Read more

The EU, which will be represented by the Netherlands, wants to introduce legally binding obligations to prevent and report new virus outbreaks, according to an EU document seen by Reuters.

If an agreement is reached, the treaty should be signed in May 2024.

As part of an overhaul of global health rules, countries are also negotiating changes to the International Health Regulations, a set of global rules aimed at preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

The United States wants to strengthen rules to enhance transparency and grant the WHO rapid access to outbreak sites, two sources told Reuters following the talks.

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Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Jeff Mason in Washington Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter

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