- The WHO could order governments to impose rules in future disease outbreaks
- Tory MPs have called for a block on powers that would dictate UK health policy
New powers could potentially plunge Britain, the US and Australia into lockdown measures at the whim of the World Health Organization, it was claimed today.
The UN agency – heavily criticised for how it handled Covid – is considering 300 amendments to its legally-binding rulebook.
One measure floated, MPs and campaigners fear, opens the door for member states to be made to comply with any advice issued during future pandemics, such as enforcing vaccine passports and border closures.
It states that countries vow to ‘undertake to follow WHO’s recommendations in their international public health response’.
Critics today described the proposal – which still has to be voted on before ever cropping up in real-world policy – as an ‘unprecedented land grab’.
The UN health agency, led by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, could order the Government to impose quarantine rules, vaccine passports and close the borders, if a draft update to its powers is approved.
Member states would also have to use 5 per cent of health budgets on preparing for another pandemic if controversial proposals are given the go ahead.
Six Tory MPs have now written to the Foreign Office, demanding it blocks any new powers that could see the WHO dictate policy and budgets in the UK.
Ex-Cabinet minister Esther McVey warned the powers would see the organisation, described as China’s puppet by critics, move from a ‘member-led advisory body to a health authority with powers of compulsion’.
In response to the fears, the Government insisted it ‘would never agree to anything that crosses our points of principle on sovereignty’.
Molly Kingsley, founder of UsForThem, which campaigned against school closures and masks in classrooms during the pandemic, said: ‘The Government have come back and said, well actually we’re quite worried too.
‘And they’re right to be because this is a really, really unprecedented land grab by the WHO.’
In 2018, the WHO identified nine priority diseases (listed) that pose the biggest risk to public health. They were deemed to be most risky due to a lack of treatments or their ability to cause a pandemic
She told Talk TV: ‘What the proposals do is change what is currently guidance that the WHO gives to binding recommendations.
‘And that includes binding recommendations over things like lockdown, mandatory vaccination, quarantine, isolation and restrictions on travel.’
Ms Kingsley added: ‘You have to ask, who is the WHO to be granting themselves powers?’
The powers are being considered as part of an update to the WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005, which sets out obligations for its 194 member states to prepare for and respond to outbreaks and other public health risks.
Among the 308 suggested changes are proposals to create a ‘legally binding’ response to public health emergencies, The Telegraph reported.
This amendment, suggested by African nations, states that the current wording of the IHR is ‘weak’.
The exact wording is in relation to getting the WHO to coordinate sharing drugs, tests, PPE and vaccines across the planet.
Yet the wording of another amendment proposes that: ‘Parties recognize WHO as the guidance and coordinating authority of international public health response during public health Emergency of International Concern and undertake to follow WHO’s recommendations in their international public health response.’
Ms Kingsley said this would effectively amount to making any WHO recommendations legally-binding.
In parallel, the agency is also working on a pandemic preparedness treaty.
WHO chiefs say both instruments will make the world safer from health threats, with another crisis feared to be lurking around the corner.
Bosses of the organisation are whittling down the suggested amendments, before a vote next spring decides whether they will come into force.
At a four-day meeting last month, the WHO discussed a third of the proposed amendments while being ‘mindful’ of each nation’s ‘equity, sovereignty and solidarity’.
The IHR working group is set to meet again in July, October and December and will agree on an amendments package to present to the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May next year, where a majority vote among member states decides whether they should be adopted.
The updated IHR would then come into force within a year for all member states, unless a country files a rejection.
And a meeting about the ‘complimentary’ pandemic treaty will take place in July, which sets out that all nations are expected to devote no less than 5 per cent of their budget to improve their pandemic preparedness.
Molly Kingsley, founder of UsForThem, which campaigned against school closures and masks in classrooms during the pandemic, said: ‘The Government have come back and said, well actually we’re quite worried too. ‘And they’re right to be because this is a really, really unprecedented land grab by the WHO’
However, a letter from Tory MPs, led by Ms McVey, calls for a vote in the Commons on the draft before it is signed.
The letter, seen by The Telegraph, states that there is ‘growing concern’ about both the IHR and the treaty.
Ms McVey said: ‘The plans represent a significant shift for the organisation, from a member-led advisory body to a health authority with powers of compulsion.
‘This is particularly worrying when you consider the WHO’s poor track record on providing consistent, clear and scientifically sound advice for managing international disease outbreaks.’
The WHO repeatedly came under fire during the pandemic for its stalwart defence of China.
This included parroting Beijing’s dismissal that the virus could have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In the earliest days of the outbreak, WHO director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus even went as far as to praise Beijing’s ‘commitment to transparency’ which he called ‘beyond words’.
At around the same time, China’s Communist Party began censoring public information about the spread of the virus and its potential origins, at one point suggesting that US troops could have been the initial carriers.
Ms McVey’s letter was co-signed by Tory MPs Sir John Redwood, David Davis, Philip Davies, Sir Christopher Chope and Danny Kruger, The Telegraph reported.
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office minister Andrew Mitchell said: ‘The UK is supportive of the pandemic treaty currently being negotiated by national governments, which could speed up the sharing of data on new pandemic threats so we are able to respond quickly in the event of future pandemics.
‘We’re clear that we would never agree to anything that crosses our points of principle on sovereignty or prevents the UK from taking decisive action against future pandemics.’
A WHO spokesperson said: ‘Just as with negotiation on pandemic accord this is a process led by sovereign states and the WHO secretariat is facilitating the negotiations.
‘As with all international instruments, any amendments to IHR, if and when agreed by member states, would be determined by governments themselves, who would take any action while considering their own national laws and regulations.’
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