Pandemic agreement talks end without a deal

Negotiations on a landmark global agreement on handling future pandemics ended Friday without a deal — though countries said they wanted to keep pushing for an accord.

Scarred by the devastation caused by Covid-19 — which killed millions of people, shredded economies and crippled health systems — countries have spent two years trying to hammer out binding commitments on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

The talks gathered momentum in the final weeks, but failed to meet a final deadline before next week's World Health Assembly — the annual gathering of the World Health Organization's 194 member states.

"This is not a failure," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted as the talks ended at the U.N. health agency's headquarters in Geneva.

He urged countries to see it as a "good opportunity to re-energise".

"The world still needs a pandemic treaty and the world needs to be prepared," he commented.

 'We're not finished' 

The assembly, which runs from Monday until June 1, will take stock and decide what to do next.

The talks co-chairs Roland Driece and Precious Matsoso told AFP that countries clearly wanted to reach a final agreement.

"It's not the end," stressed Matsoso, noting that the same ministers who decided they wanted a pandemic agreement would be the ones deciding on the next steps.

"They are the ones who are going to say, 'OK, you haven't finished this. Please go back, finalise it'," she said.

Driece said the draft they would send to the assembly was "not an agreed document, but it is a document — and we started with a blank sheet of paper. With nothing."

"I would think it would be very stupid if they would not finish this," he said.

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