According to Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper, the Group of 7 (“G7”) – Britain, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – is considering whether to issue a statement on a global pandemic response at the 19-21 May G7 summit in Japan’s city of Hiroshima.
Japan took over the G7 presidency in 2023 but the idea of a ‘Pandemic Treaty’ became a news item two years earlier.
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In March 2021, then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson together with other world leaders announced that nations should work together towards a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. “It would be rooted in the constitution of the World Health Organisation … Existing global health instruments, especially the International Health Regulations, would underpin such a treaty,” the announcement said.
The main goal of this treaty would be to foster an all of government and all of society approach, strengthening national, regional and global capacities and resilience to future pandemics. This includes greatly enhancing international co-operation to improve, for example, alert systems, data-sharing, research and local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter-measures such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.
It would also include recognition of a “One Health” approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet.No government can address the threat of pandemics alone – we must come together, UK Government, 30 March 2021
Within a couple of months, it was on the agenda at the 74th World Health Assembly (“WHA”) in May 2021: “Strengthening WHO preparedness for and response to health emergencies.” During his WHA closing speech, Tedros the Terrorist said:
“[The WHA] approved a historic resolution on strengthening WHO preparedness and response for emergencies … the reports of the IPPR, the IHR [International Health Regulations] review committee and the IOSC are unanimous in their view that the world needs a stronger WHO at the centre of the global health architecture.
“The theme of this assembly, as you know, is ending this pandemic and preventing the next one … the challenges we face are profound and so must be the solutions we design. Strengthening WHO certainly means strengthening the secretariat but it also means strengthening the bond between member states … The one recommendation that I believe will do most to strengthen both WHO and global health security is the recommendation of a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response.
“We need … an overarching framework for connecting the political, financial and technical mechanisms needed for strengthening global health security … The safety of the world’s people cannot rely solely on the goodwill of governments. Every government is responsible for and accountable to its own people but member states can only truly keep their own people safe if they are accountable to each other at the global level.”
As part of its G7 Presidency, the UK hosted the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on 11-13 June 2021. It yielded many commitments to pandemic preparedness. The plan is to strengthen the role of WHO in pandemic preparedness and response in accordance with the resolution made at the 74th World Health Assembly in May.
The 2021 communiqué contained an endorsement of the G7 Carbis Bay Health Declaration, which goes into detail about the actions to “ensure all countries are better equipped to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from health crises”. First among these actions was strengthening the “One Health” approach to prevention and preparedness.
Read more: G7 leaders commit to greater pandemic preparedness (again), The Lancet, July 2021
The following year, during Germany’s G7 Presidency, a two-day G7 Health Minister’s meeting was held in Berlin from 19–20 May 2022. The result was that the G7 health ministers agreed on a “pact to fight pandemics” which strengthened the role of WHO and preparedness for future pandemics.
It is a great achievement that as the G7 we have succeeded in agreeing on a pandemic pact.
The WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence in Berlin will serve as a central hub so that data can be faster and better analysed and used.
… we need a strong WHO, global pandemic monitoring and mobile, well-trained intervention teams on the ground. How these structures can be put in place is one of the topics ministers will be discussing during their two-day meeting, together with representatives of WHO and the EU Commission.Closing of G7 Health Ministers’ Meeting: Far-reaching decisions adopted, German Federal Ministry of Health, 20 May 2022
The following month, Wellcome Trust published an article praising the German G7 Presidency for progress made in facing pandemic threats at the G7 Summit held in Germany from 26 to 28 June 2022.
“Behind the headlines on the summit, the G7 leaders’ communiqué does mark some notable – at times hard-won – progress, a credit to the German presidency bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders,” Wellcome’s European Government Relations Lead wrote.
The [G7 2022] communiqué’s endorsement of the Pact for Pandemic Readiness marks a significant step in the right direction for building global response and resilience to the threat of escalating infectious diseases. This Pact will be crucial for monitoring and rapidly responding to novel pathogens which could cause the next pandemic.
With technical meetings on the agenda in autumn to develop the roadmap to implementation.
The Pact for Pandemic Readiness is not the first G7 initiative for pandemic preparedness. The 100 Days Mission, launched under last year’s UK Presidency, aims to reduce the impact of future pandemics through the ambitious target to develop vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics within 100 days from pandemic detection.
This communiqué is a marker of good progress but there is still a long way to go highlighting the importance of continuing these discussions during the handover to Japan for the next G7 presidency in 2023.G7 progress against pandemic threats is promising – now they must act, Wellcome, 1 July 2022
We are now in 2023 and Japan has the presidency of the G7. The 2023 G7 Summit begins on Friday and the G7 is set to issue a statement on a global pandemic response.
Any guesses about what the statement from the upcoming G7 Summit might say? Do you get the impression the text of the ‘Pandemic Treaty’ is not being shaped, developed and negotiated over the next year as Mark Fletcher, Member of Parliament for Bolsover, assured his constituent but rather that it has, for all intents and purposes, already been written? Do you get the feeling the Pandemic Treaty is, as far as they believe, a fait accompli? If so, why are they waiting until 2024 to approve the text as Fletcher indicated? Because, perhaps, not all countries are on board.
Initially, the US had opposed the inclusion of language that would have made the so-called pandemic treaty legally binding. However, in December 2021, the Biden Administration capitulated and supported a draft resolution that was submitted to a special session of the WHA. But there could be further disruptions to the G7’s plans.
China and Russia may prove difficult for G7 to get on board with their agenda, albeit for reasons other than the ‘Pandemic Treaty’. The Financial Express suggested that the two countries are top problems for G7 leaders and highlighted some problems G7 leaders should focus on at their upcoming meeting:
- One of the biggest challenges for the G7 is to enlist nations outside the group, especially those in what is known as the Global South. These countries may attach themselves to the bigger power in their own neighbourhood, or to China.
- The penalties on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine are unprecedented in their breadth and depth. And yet, while diminished, the Russian economy continues to hold up. Conversely, there will be a unified show of support for Ukraine, which is gearing up for a counter-offensive.
- G7 leaders are grappling with the question of how to tackle China, the world’s second-largest economy.
- The Summit location of Hiroshima is a potent reminder that Japan was bombed twice with nuclear weapons by the US in the dying days of World War II. Now the architecture around the monitoring of nuclear arsenals is fraying.
- US President Joe Biden comes to the G7 chased by a debt ceiling crisis at home.
- The leaders of France and Italy come to Hiroshima after a period of tussling between their governments.
- Turkey is facing a runoff election on 28 May with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faring better in the first round than predicted.
- The meeting coincides with a gathering of the Arab League leadership, where Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad may turn up following his reinstatement more than a decade after his crackdown on opponents started during the Arab Spring uprisings. For all the years of criticism by the US and others for his brutality in Syria, the Syrian leader is very much back at the table.
With all of the above going on behind the scenes, we can but hope the ‘Pandemic Treaty’ gets caught in the crossfire. Even if the Pandemic Treaty were shelved, it is only one string to WHO’s bow to become global health dictator. The proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations would also achieve their aims. #ExitTheWHO
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