WTO Cancels MC12 Meeting ‘Indefinitely’ Over New COVID Variant Concerns

The World Trade Organization is canceling its planned MC12 meeting amid concerns over the new omicron COVID-19 variant.

The organization announced Friday that it was postponing its Ministerial Conference after several world governments restricted travel in the wake of a South African outbreak of the B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, named this week by the World Health organization as omicron.

“Given these unfortunate developments and the uncertainty that they cause, we see no alternative but to propose to postpone the Ministerial Conference and reconvene it as soon as possible when conditions allow,” General Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo told the General Council. “I trust that you will fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation.”

The conference was supposed to begin Nov. 30 and run to Dec. 3 and is the second COVID-related postponement of the 12th conference, which was initially scheduled for June 2020, according to the organization.

The conference was supposed to take place in Geneva, Switzerland, but new travel restrictions would have meant that many of the participating ministers and delegates would not be able to meet and negotiate in person.

“This has not been an easy recommendation to make,” Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. “But as Director-General, my priority is the health and safety of all MC12 participants — ministers, delegates and civil society. It is better to err on the side of caution.”

A new date for the conference has not been set, according to the organization.

With the WHO naming the new variant as one “of concern” Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a press release Friday night saying that there have not yet been any reported cases of the new strain in the United States.

“No cases of this variant have been identified in the U.S. to date,” the agency’s release said. “CDC is following the details of this new variant, first reported to the WHO by South Africa.

“We are grateful to the South African government and its scientists who have openly communicated with the global scientific community and continue to share information about this variant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC. We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path.”

The CDC said its monitoring system has worked to identify new variations of the virus once they are detected in the country, and it expects to identify the omicron variant once, or if, it appears.

The agency reminded the public that following social distancing, washing hands, and masking while indoors will help slow the spread of new variants, and encouraged everyone to get vaccinated, or get their booster shot to protect against the more serious effects of the disease.

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