States role: Curbing Corona contagion under int’l law

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Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

THE ongoing Corona Virus pandemic represents a severe social stress test for global unity as of March 17, the Convid-19 has spread around 156 states globally. The current crisis situation advocates a comprehensive emergency package through which the 199 state members of the international community must take responsibility for a meaningful share of the overall emergency effort coming as a unified challenge to collectively play a role fostered under the WHO-pledged International Health Regulation called IHR-2005 to deter an already faced threat via MERS and SARS.: the two pre-existing forms of Corona Virus.
The International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR 2005), adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2005 and in force for 196 states since June 2007, are the pivotal global legal instrument meant to prevent and control the international spread of the disease. Yet, IHR-2005 presented a radical change from previously adopted versions as well as pre-WHO regulations, a shift from—an ossified passive approach relying on a list of diseases and rigid maximum national measures. Under Article 43 of the IHR 2005, states parties implementing additional health measures that significantly interfere with international traffic are basically obliged to send to WHO the public health rationale and justification within 48 hours of their implementation. WHO will review the justification and may request countries to reconsider their measures. WHO is required to share with other States Parties the information about measures and the justification received.
43.1 to 43.5 on Additional Health Measures: ‘’1-These Regulations shall not preclude States Parties from implementing health measures, in accordance with their relevant national law and obligations under international law, in response to specific public health risks or public health emergencies of international concern, which: (a)achieve the same or greater level of health protection than WHO recommendations; or(b)are otherwise prohibited under Article 25, Article 26, paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 28, Article 30, paragraph 1(c) of Article 31 and Article 33, provided such measures are otherwise consistent with these Regulations. Such measures shall not be more restrictive of international traffic and not more invasive or intrusive to persons than reasonably available alternatives that would achieve the appropriate level of health protection.
2-In determining whether to implement the health measures referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article or additional health measures under paragraph 2 of Article 23, paragraph 1 of Article 27, paragraph 2 of Article 28 and paragraph 2(c) of Article 31, States Parties shall base their determinations upon: (a)scientific principles; (b)available scientific evidence of a risk to human health, or where such evidence is insufficient, the available information including from WHO and other relevant inter-governmental organizations and international bodies; and(c) any available advice from the WHO.3- A State Party implementing additional health measures referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article which significantly interferes with international traffic shall provide to WHO the public health rationale and relevant scientific information for it. WHO shall share this information with other States Parties and shall share information regarding the health measures implemented. 4-After assessing information provided pursuant to paragraph 3 and 5 of this Article and other relevant information, WHO may request that the State Party concerned reconsider the application of the measures. 5-A State Party implementing additional health measures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article that significantly interfere with international traffic shall inform WHO, within 48 hours of implementation, of such measures and their health rationale unless these are covered by a temporary or standing recommendation.’’
In imposing travel restrictions against China during the current outbreak of 2019 novel Corona Virus disease (COVID-19), many countries are violating the IHR. The most seasoned sixteen global health law scholars—came to this conclusion after applying the interpretive framework of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and reaching a jurisprudential consensus on the legal meaning of IHR Article 43. According to the said IHR, states parties are under an obligation to cooperate in good faith with WHO and one another by assessing health events occurring on their territory, notifying to WHO those which reach a certain threshold of gravity, providing detailed information and taking a range of measures depending on the nature of the health event. As yet, more than 70 countries have instituted the travel restrictions, according to the W.H.O., including the United States, where President Trump announced on Wednesday night restrictions to travel from the European continent, the epicentre of the Corona contagion.Most importantly, states parties must achieve and maintain a set of core capacities in their respective national health systems in order to promptly detect, notify and respond to public health risks and emergencies. As the global community is hemmed in by the multiple threats—trans-regionally posed to us via this new Corona Virus and it has been previously shown that similar Corona Viruses required substantial efforts to enable regular information sharing and research, the global community should continue to demonstrate solidarity and cooperation for supporting each other on the identification of the source of this new virus, its full potential for human-to-human transmission, preparedness for potential importation of cases, and research for developing necessary treatment (in compliance with Article 44 of the IHR-2005).
Pakistan, being a signatory of the IHR-2005, along with other WHO member states, is promptly committed to building resilient health systems which rightly adapt and give a betting response to the brewing challenges posed by the COVID-19, other related health hazards, and emergencies of both national and international concern. In the wake of the emerging apprehension of national health security and safety to be questioned by the ongoing outbreak of the Corona Virus, on 13 March PM Imran Khan supervised a National Security Council meeting thereby taking urgent measures for the prevention of COVID-19. These measures, specifically include the closing of our borders with Iran and Afghanistan for a fortnight period; shutting down of the schools till April 05; ban on large public gatherings including religious and social; selective operation of international flights from Pakistan; and the formation of national health communication centre on Corona Virus. WHO has positively appreciated the preventive measures taken by the Government of Pakistan while confronting the growing dangers.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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