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WHO urged to develop standardised system for naming new COVID-19 variants

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Committee (EC) on COVID-19 has urged the UN health body to develop a standardised system for naming new variants of the virus that avoids geographical markers.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI / Getty Images

It is however noted that the WHO has already begun working in that area.

The EC made the submission at a virtual meeting held on Thursday, January 14, 2021, at the request of WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to review the emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and to consider the potential use of vaccination and testing certificates for international travel.

While saying that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the EC called for a global expansion of genomic sequencing and sharing of data, along with greater scientific collaboration to address critical unknowns.

On vaccines, the committee underlined the need for equitable access through the COVAX Facility as well as technology transfer to increase global production capacities.

The committee encouraged vaccine manufacturers to rapidly provide safety and efficacy data to WHO for emergency use listing. It described the lack of such data as a barrier to ensuring the timely and equitable supply of vaccines at the global level.

Given that the impact of vaccines in reducing transmission is yet unknown, and the current availability of vaccines is too limited, the committee recommended that countries do not require proof of vaccination from incoming travellers.

The committee advised countries to implement coordinated, evidence-based measures for safe travel and to share with WHO experiences and best practices learned.

This was the sixth meeting of the Emergency Committee on COVID-19. Since the declaration of a PHEIC on January 30, 2020, the Director-General has been reconvening the committee at three-month intervals to review progress. 

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