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Official: WTO postpones key meeting over concerns over COVID variants

GENEVA (AP) – The World Trade Organization is postponing its conference of government ministers due to open on Tuesday after Switzerland launched new travel restrictions following the emergence of a worrying new variant of the coronavirus, a said a Geneva-based trade official on Friday.

The MC12 conference at WTO headquarters in Geneva was to address key issues such as a long-awaited agreement on fisheries subsidies, seen as a major way to prevent overfishing in the world’s seas, and an effort to renounce patents and other intellectual property protections. related to COVID-19 vaccines.

Ambassadors from 164 WTO member states agreed to delay the conference for four days after new travel restrictions in Switzerland prevented all attendees from attending in person, and a virtual meeting was not considered as an option, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The Swiss health department said all direct flights from southern Africa were banned and that from Friday evening all people arriving from that region as well as from Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. – other places where the variant has been detected – must present a negative COVID. Test -19 and quarantine for 10 days.

Across town on Friday, the World Health Organization classified the disturbing new variant that was first detected in South Africa as a highly transmissible variant of concern, and named it the omicron variant. – under the Greek letter identification system used by the UN. agency.

The South African delegation to the WTO has led the campaign for relaxed patent and other intellectual property protections behind tools to fight the pandemic, including vaccines, diagnostics and therapies, in the hope of reducing them. make more accessible to the developing world. Many European countries, including Switzerland, the EU and Britain, have resisted the idea, saying it could stifle innovation.

Concerns over the new variant of omicron swept the stock markets on Friday amid concerns about the wider economic fallout, including travel restrictions.

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