WHO chief calls for delinking travel from trade restrictions during global pandemics

Tedros Ghebreyesus says $2.4B vaccines needed for those at most risk from COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO chief calls for delinking travel from trade restrictions during global pandemics

The World Health Organization chief called Tuesday for "delinking travel from trade restrictions" during global public health emergencies, saying $2.4 billion vaccines are needed for those most at risk of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus was speaking at the opening of the Public Forum 2021 at the World Trade Organization titled Trade Beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience.

WTO head Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also addressed the event.

"Right now, $2.4 billion of COVID-19 vaccines are needed to vaccinate the world's most at-risk people, like health workers, the elderly, those with underlying conditions, and other vulnerable groups.

"The vaccines exist, but they're still not reaching the people who need them most."

Delinking travel from trade restrictions

The WHO chief said the World Health Assembly this year called for "delinking travel from trade restrictions" during public health emergencies of international concern, the WHO's most serious ranking of health risks.

The goal is to maximize the effectiveness of public health measures while minimizing their negative economic impacts.

"This includes facilitating the manufacture and movement of critical medical supplies," said Tedros.

"We need to support the capacities of all countries to roll out COVID-19 vaccines and … finally, WHO looks forward to continuing collaboration with the World Trade Organization, and all member states, to lower the barriers to trade and travel during health emergencies."

WTO's Ngozi said: "The trading system can and must do more to reduce vaccine inequity and to help us tackle pressing challenges elsewhere, from our oceans to our climate."

She said that is why it is essential to deliver results at the WTO in the weeks remaining before its 12th Ministerial Conference.

Ngozi praised Ramaphosa for actively pursuing investment in Africa while also strongly advocating for intellectual property waiver.

She said the pharmaceutical company Pfizer-BioNTech will invest in a South African company to produce 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses each year.

"The WTO has a central role in addressing trade and intellectual property-related barriers to boost and diversify production of vaccines, diagnostics, as well as therapeutics," said Ramaphosa in his address.

"Passing a time-bound, targeted TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver, as proposed by South Africa and India, and now supported by many countries around the world, is urgent if we are to save millions of lives."

He said such a move would be a proportionate response to the exceptional circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Unequal access to vaccines presents a huge risk to sustain the global recovery," said the South African president.