However, social media users have shared a video claiming that the US-led amendments will cause all 194 WHO member nations to cede sovereignty to the organisation, giving it power to unilaterally impose lockdowns on cities without the approval of a country’s government.
The video, an interview between former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon and once US congresswoman Michele Bachmann, was shared by Jewell Drury, a former NSW Senate candidate for the Australian Better Families party. The Facebook post is accompanied by a caption claiming the amendments would include “compulsory testing”, “compulsory arrests and transfer to quarantine centres” and “forced vaccination”.
In the interview, Bachmann claims the amendments, which will be discussed at the 75th World Health Assembly from May 22-28 will give the WHO “decision-making authority to intervene into US government policy and any nation in the world without our permission.”
“So for instance, the lockdowns where you see 26 million people today locked down in Shanghai, China… The WHO would have the authority to impose that here in the United States for whatever pretext they want,” she says (video mark 1min 38 sec).
When asked about the basis for her claim, Bachmann told AAP FactCheck in an email to “see the plain language of the amendments, in particular, article 22 section 2, line 6.” There are no proposed amendments to article 22 of the IHR and section 2 of article 22 is only four lines long.
She also sent several blog posts which mention article 12 of the amendments.
The article 12 amendments remove the requirements for the WHO Director-General to receive the agreement of the state in which an outbreak is occurring before determining a health emergency.
However, experts told AAP FactCheck the WHO does not have the power to override the decision-making authority of national governments and the proposed amendments would not alter this. They say the amendments are aimed at detecting disease outbreaks earlier and preventing states from withholding information from the WHO.
Dr Sara Davies, a global health governance expert at Griffith University, told AAP FactCheck that “states will always have the power to make decisions on how to respond to a health emergency.”
“The only consequence might be that states may limit travel and trade to a country that is doing nothing to prevent the spread of a disease (i.e. providing no information to WHO, and the outbreak is escalating to the point where it is causing large scale disruption),” Dr Davies said in an email.
She added: “Member states always have power to refuse advice issued by the WHO…It cannot make a government impose a lockdown. States will always have the power to make decisions on how to respond to a health emergency.”
Professor Anthony Zwi, a global health and policy expert at the University of New South Wales, said there is nothing in the amendments to give the WHO power to impose lockdowns.
“WHO always works with sovereign governments and has no power or ability to intervene within a country in relation to public health measures,” he said in an email.
“In any case the WHO does not have any capacity to do so; any lockdown, surveillance system, diagnostic testing – would have to be implemented by a given country in keeping with its health system, available resources, and political decision-making. WHO cannot do more than advise – both the country in question and the global community… these changes empower it to act more quickly in going public in the presence of a sovereign state that refuses to acknowledge the presence of a problem.”
The IHR govern the processes around reporting of disease outbreaks to the WHO and making information available, Prof Zwi said.
“They set out the processes by which states communicate with WHO, provide information to WHO, and what can be done with such information,” he added.
The US submission for amendments comes after an independent pandemic review panel found the WHO took too long to declare COVID-19 an international emergency and that global pandemic alert systems are “not fit for purpose”. The US has also criticised China for hiding the extent of the initial outbreak.
“The intent behind these amendments is to prevent states withholding information from the WHO and other states,” Dr Davies said.
“These amendments seek to make sure states are informed about suspected public health emergencies earlier, and that the WHO Director-General does not need to wait for a state’s permission to tell other states about a suspected outbreak event.”
Prof Zwi said the amendments are in keeping with the dissatisfaction with how China handled the early days of the pandemic and delays in providing information.
The WHO is also in the process of drafting a new pandemic response treaty, which is due to be submitted by the 77th World Health Assembly in 2024.
Social media posts (example here) appear to mistake the pandemic response treaty for the proposed amendments to the IHR, claiming there is an upcoming vote on the pandemic treaty. The terms of the pandemic treaty are yet to be released and are not scheduled to be voted on at the upcoming 75th World Health Assembly.
The claim that proposed amendments to the IHR would allow the WHO to unilaterally enforce lockdowns and remove sovereignty from governments is false. Experts say while the amendments are designed to strengthen the WHO’s ability to detect and declare health emergencies, they do not give it the power to force lockdowns within sovereign nations.
False – The claim is inaccurate.