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Note for journalists: Below are the remarks, transcript, and video from today's briefing on COVID-19
WHO Director-General's remarks at the media briefing 17 March
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,
Last Saturday, the 11th of March, marked three years since WHO first described the global outbreak of COVID-19 as a pandemic.
That was a significant moment that caught the world’s attention.
However, from WHO’s perspective, the far more significant moment was six weeks earlier, on the 30th of January 2020, when I declared a public health emergency of international concern.
It may not sound as dramatic or severe as “pandemic”, but a public health emergency of international concern is the highest level of alarm that WHO can sound under international law.
At that time – the 30th of January 2020 – there were fewer than 100 reported cases of COVID-19 outside China, and no reported deaths outside China.
We declared a global health emergency to spur countries to take decisive action, but not all countries did.
Three years later, there are almost 7 million reported deaths from COVID-19, although we know that the actual number of deaths is much higher.
We are certainly in a much better position now than we have been at any time during the pandemic.
It’s very pleasing to see that for the first time, the weekly number of reported deaths in the past four weeks has been lower than when we first used the word “pandemic” three years ago.
I am confident that this year we will be able to say that COVID-19 is over as a public health emergency of international concern.
We are not there yet. Last week, there were still more than five thousand reported deaths. That’s five thousand too many for a disease that can be prevented and treated.
Even as we become increasingly hopeful about the end of the pandemic, the question of how it began remains unanswered.
Last Sunday, WHO was made aware of data published on the GISAID database in late January, and taken down again recently.
The data, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, relates to samples taken at the Huanan market in Wuhan, in 2020.
While it was online, scientists from a number of countries downloaded the data and analysed it.
As soon as we became aware of this data, we contacted the Chinese CDC and urged them to share it with WHO and the international scientific community so it can be analysed.
We also convened the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO, which met on Tuesday.
We asked researchers from the Chinese CDC and the international group of scientists to present their analyses of the data to SAGO.
These data do not provide a definitive answer to the question of how the pandemic began, but every piece of data is important in moving us closer to that answer.
And every piece of data relating to studying the origins of COVID-19, needs to be shared with the international community immediately.
These data could have – and should have – been shared three years ago.
We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results.
Understanding how the pandemic began remains both a moral and scientific imperative.
Even as we look back to the beginnings of this pandemic, we are continuing to look forward, to strengthen the world’s defences against future epidemics and pandemics.
This is something that countries must do together. It’s not something that any country can do alone.
We can only face shared threats with a shared response, based on a shared commitment to solidarity and equity.
That is what the pandemic accord that countries are now negotiating is all about: an agreement between nations to work in cooperation with each other – not in competition – to prepare for and respond to epidemics and pandemics.
It’s essential to emphasize that this accord is being negotiated by countries, for countries, and will be adopted and implemented by countries, in accordance with their own national laws.
The claim by some that this accord is an infringement of national sovereignty is just plain wrong.
Countries, and countries alone, will decide what is in the accord, not the staff of WHO.
This accord would be an instrument of international law, similar to the many other accords and treaties that nations have agreed.
For example, the Framework Convention on Climate Change does not give the United Nations powers to dictate countries’ policies on climate or energy.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control does not give WHO power to regulate tobacco in any country.
The International Health Regulations do not give WHO power to dictate health policy to any country.
Neither will this accord give WHO power to dictate policy to any country.
This accord will be an agreement by countries.
WHO’s role would be to help implement the accord that countries agree.
An accord that captures all the challenges we have faced during this pandemic is essential for making sure that the world does not repeat the mistakes that were made in this pandemic.
If we repeat the same mistakes, I don’t think we will forgive ourselves, and our children and grandchildren will not forgive us.
We have a duty to ourselves to end this pandemic as soon as possible.
We have a duty to those we have lost to find out how it started.
And we have a duty to those who will follow us to make the world safer.
Margaret, back to you.
Video: Full files, Duration: 39mins
Link: https://who.canto.global/b/I8TSV [who.canto.global]
News edit: Duration: 06:23
Link: https://who.canto.global/b/PD74E [who.canto.global]
Source: WHO- filmed in Geneva and remote locations on 17 MARCH 2023
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