Norway to lead international Covid-19 task force

Norway is taking a prominent role in a global initiative to battle coronavirus.

Norway to lead international Covid-19 task force
World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva. Photo: AFP

The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator was launched in April by the World Health Organization (WHO), which describes it as “a groundbreaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines”.

Norway is already a partner in the collaboration, having joined in April. The work of the project has so far been led by the European Commission.

Along with South Africa, Norway has been selected as a new leader for the collaboration, VG reports.

“It will be demanding, but this is something we must make happen to stop the pandemic,” minister for foreign development Dag Inge Ulstein said to VG in reference to the project’s mission statement.

“Only through international cooperation can the world succeed in defeating the virus. We cannot afford to fail. We must do what we can,” Ulstein said.

According to the WHO’s website, the collaboration requires total investment of 31.3 billion US dollars, of which $18.1 billion is earmarked for vaccines, $7.2 billion for therapeutics and $6 billion for testing.

The group will meet digitally on Thursday, with various organisations and global regions represented at the summit. Representatives from national governments and civil society will also attend, VG writes.

All three of Russia, China and the Unites States will participate at the summit, according to the newspaper.

Ulstein said that Norway’s team is prepared and expects the task to require good diplomatic skills, expert knowledge and good relationships with established partners.

In June, the WHO said there was a funding gap of US$27.9 billion, of which $13.7 billion was urgently needed.

READ ALSO: What are Norway's quarantine rules and what happens if you break them?

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”