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The WHO’s plan for public-health tyranny

Unelected officials want the power to drag us back into lockdown.

Molly Kingsley

Topics Covid-19 Politics World

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The World Health Organisation’s proposal for a global ‘pandemic treaty’ has been a political and public-relations disaster.

Talks between WHO member states began in late 2021 and resumed last month, with final negotiation sessions taking place this week. WHO officials aim to settle on a new pandemic agreement and amendments to existing International Health Regulations (IHR). The initial pandemic agreement plan (or ‘zero draft’) was so controversial when it was published in 2023 that much of the negotiation process has since been conducted in secret.

This draft agreement would have granted the WHO the power to issue legally binding mandates to member states and their citizens during pandemics. This would include imposing lockdowns, quarantines and mandatory vaccinations. This threatened to fundamentally redefine the relationship between nation states and the WHO.

As resistance to these changes mounted internationally, the WHO has responded by smearing those critical of its ambitions. When elected representatives around the world highlighted that the plans pose a clear threat to national decision-making autonomy, the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, went on the offensive. Using the global stage of the World Governments Summit in February this year, he accused those raising concerns of spreading a ‘litany of lies and conspiracy theories’.

Late last month, updated versions of the proposals were released by the WHO. Although these drafts are a material improvement on the older versions, concerns persist about the legally binding nature of the pandemic agreement. The new framework ordains the WHO as the ‘directing and coordinating’ authority when it comes to global pandemics, which suggests that democratic decision-making could still be undermined. Even more alarmingly, these new proposals still assume that an interventionist response, such as with quarantines and lockdowns, is the best way to fight a pandemic.

Of course, none of these measures is without controversy. Experts continue to debate their efficacy in combating the last pandemic. Here in the UK, the Covid Inquiry into our government’s response is still underway. It certainly seems premature to commit us to a public-health regime that could prioritise lockdowns, mask mandates and other controversial measures when we have yet to fully absorb any lessons from Covid-19.

Particularly troubling are the provisions that commit WHO member states to developing behavioural-science measures (a euphemism for ‘nudge’ tactics and propaganda) and countering ‘misinformation and disinformation’ (meaning increased censorship). Given the extent of state-led propaganda and censorship during the last pandemic, would it not be more appropriate to strengthen protections for scientific debate and free speech instead?

This all raises broader questions as to whether the WHO is fit for purpose as a global public-health leader. This is an organisation that lauded China for ‘setting a new standard for outbreak response’ with its authoritarian (and mostly ineffective) lockdown measures, despite Beijing’s attempts to cover up cases in the early days of the pandemic and to block investigations into the origins of the virus. In early 2020, the WHO even publicly denied that Covid could spread by human-to-human transmission, seemingly at China’s behest. More recently, the WHO caused outrage by recommending that children as young as four ‘ask questions about sexuality’ and ‘explore gender identities’.

The WHO is not an organisation we should be trusting to declare public-health emergencies and trigger global lockdowns. Especially not under the leadership of Ghebreyesus, who, in one of his first acts as director general, appointed former Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador (the offer was quickly rescinded after a public outcry). Some credible commentators have also argued that Ghebreyesus should be prosecuted for genocide in light of his former role as head of Ethiopia’s security services. In 2017, he was accused by a prominent human-rights campaigner of attempting to wipe out Amhara, Konso, Oromo and Somali tribes.

The biggest issue, though, is the lack of proper scrutiny the WHO’s proposals have faced. When the WHO finally released a new draft of its proposed IHR amendments in late April, it was months after the legal deadline for publication had passed. Respected jurists and a large group of US senators have argued that this may render any amendments invalid under international law. Regardless, we have a vanishingly small window to scrutinise proposals that could reshape UK public-health policy for decades to come.

There is simply no good reason for the UK to uncritically adopt the WHO’s new framework. Doing so will only erode the public’s already damaged trust in government-led public health. An organisation as shambolic and opaque as the WHO should not be allowed anywhere near the big decisions we will have to make should another pandemic arrive.

Molly Kingsley is one of the founders of the parents campaign group, UsforThem.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Covid-19 Politics World

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