Analysis: UN report ‘Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity’

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

COVID-19 has already surpassed about 2 million cases worldwide with hundreds of thousands of deaths reported so far. This outbreak has forced the countries across the globe to observe complete lockdown. People are living under quarantine. Apart from impacting the daily lives of people, the world is seeing dire economic and social impacts.

The United Nations (UN) launched a new report titled ‘Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19’ on 31st March 2020. This report calls for united efforts at a global scale to counter the adverse socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It addresses the multidimensional concerns arising out of the current crisis. It entreats everyone to come together and act in a unified manner.

How and when did this report come into being?

The International Monetary Fund has announced that the world has entered a recession as bad, if not worse, as the one in 2009. It is a unique and unprecedented situation. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called COVID-19 the worst crisis since World War II. He has further said its economic impact will contribute to “enhanced instability, economic unrest, and conflict”.

This crisis is not only a health crisis but a human crisis that has multifaceted long-term consequences. This has been by far the greatest challenge faced by the world since the formation of the UN. Thus, it requires a coordinated effort to overcome its many social and economic repercussions.

 The efforts made towards dealing with the crisis must match the scale at which it prevails. No country can win this battle on its own. The Shared Responsibility report thus comes as a unified call for action. It seeks immediate response to put an end to the pandemic and its effects.

Its aims and objectives

The main objective of the report is to facilitate action through expedient health responses and urgent measures to address the socio-economic impacts. It appeals for an increased focus on the vulnerable nations as well as groups of people. Women, children, youth, elderly, people with disabilities, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector are always the worst hit during a crisis. Working on the notion that we are as strong as the weakest health system, this report aims for collective action. It provides for a three-step roadmap.

First, it aims for setting up a robust healthcare system. The health system must be competent to tackle the pandemic and respond to the needs right away. It involves worldwide collaboration. An increase in investment in the healthcare sector is essential. The universal demands of necessary equipment, facilities, and supplies must be met. The main focus is to suppress transmission and put an end to the pandemic by coordination and by adherence to the appeals of WHO.

Second, it aims for the mitigation of the negative impacts on society and the economy. This would involve provisions for support to households, workers and businesses, monetary and fiscal responses to prevent loss to the economy, and social protection. The report calls for a coordinated response where about 10 percent of the global GDP is brought to use to fight off the pandemic.

Third, it highlights the importance of learning from this crisis. Prior global targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement have not yet been met. The impact the world is facing today would have been less severe if those goals were achieved. Thus, the report calls this to be a learning opportunity. This crisis should teach us to enhance efforts towards achieving said global targets. In this manner, we would emerge stronger and more prepared to deal with future crises.

The objective of recommendations provided in this report is to empower nations and encourage them to act.

The report declares that the UN and its subsidiary agencies will offer full support to achieve these objectives. It underlines the need for maintaining a sense of global coordination and solidarity. The world needs to fight this battle together.

Salient features

Some of the most prominent takeaways from this report are summed up as follows:

  • Decisive and pro-active action is specified as a measure to decrease the spread and bring an end to COVID-19. The report recommends early preparations in countries with no cases. Speedy testing and detection of cases, quarantine measures, school closures, and isolation measures must be set up.
  • The report highlights the importance of global collaboration. Immediate support to poor and vulnerable countries must be provided. The availability, development, production, and distribution of laboratory testing kits, essential medical supplies, new drugs, and vaccines must be scaled up.
  • It discourages countries from resorting to protectionist measures. Instead, they are being encouraged to ensure the free flow of scientific research and technological innovations. The report specifies that it is only with a common vision that the world can tackle this pandemic.
  • The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund is one of its kinds launched by the UN, WHO and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation. It is for providing financial support for health workers on the frontlines as well as for advancing research. The report urges for contribution to the same.
  • To tackle the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, the report recommends the implementation of a large-scale coordinated global fiscal stimulus. This stimulus package must amount to at least a percentage in double-digits of global GDP. Such a fiscal stimulus will boost the economy in the long run. It is also recommended on a national scale.
  • The report calls for explicit measures to boost the economy of developing countries. It asks for debt relief and concessional finance. This would help the domestic economics of these vulnerable countries to revive.
  • It further seeks waiver of sanctions, tariffs and non-tariff measures to ensure free access to food, medicines and other essential supplies.
  • Major central banks and international financial institutions can play a crucial role in fighting off the present impacts and aid in recovery. Coordination between these big players can boost liquidity.
  • The report recommends coordination with the private financial sector at the regional level. This can aid in recovery. Regional companies must be roped in.
  • It does not fail to mention the vulnerable groups that need protection more than the others. The report thus calls for a “human rights-based approach”. Proper availability of information in a manner that can be understood by the people is the need of this hour.
  • It is crucial to have a humanitarian outlook. Women and girls must find a place in the response. Apart from them, the elderly, people with disabilities, daily wage laborers, migrants, prisoners among others need protection. Thus, the protection of human rights and a focus on inclusion is crucial at this time.
  • The international community must come together to aid governments to support education. Governments can then provide distance and digital educational services.
  • The short-term effects of the crisis have been positive for the environment at least. But, these are only short-lived. The situation will revert after lockdown unless countries focus on them. The report recommends the strengthening of approaches towards climate action and NDCs.
  • To reduce the overall impact of this crisis, the report recommends partnerships between local and national authorities for global research and innovation. The report highlights the importance of community-based organizations (CBOs), Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs), civil society organizations and youth networks in raising awareness and improving social cohesion.
  • The report also points out that we will overcome this crisis. And when we do, we must be mindful and remember all that was learned during our fight with the pandemic. This knowledge must be used to rebuild a world better than before.

Critical analysis

‘Shared responsibility, Global Solidarity’–as the phrase suggests, is a call for worldwide collaboration. It calls the whole world to come together and stand united against this crisis. It asks everyone to share the responsibility to combat it effectively. The report provides a holistic analysis of the current magnitude of the crisis, the degree of its spread and how it is impacting the lives of the people all around the globe.

The report accurately highlights the importance of united global efforts by stating that “the world is only as strong as the weakest health system.” The world is interrelated and integrated, both socially and economically. Hence, if every country only focuses upon itself there would be no end to this crisis. The weakest and the most vulnerable countries need the most help. It is only by helping those that the evasion of this crisis is possible. The report calls for a global ceasefire to direct the focus of conflict-affected countries towards COVID-19.

The report displays a ‘people-centered approach’. It focuses on all the people who would be inevitably affected as a result of this crisis. It advocates for respecting human rights, ensuring social inclusion and engagement while maintaining equality and dignity.

It also lays down some recommendations to empower countries and propel partners into urgent action. These recommendations are structured into three tiers – global, regional and national. Not only does the report lay down the immediate measures that everyone should be undertaking at global, national and regional levels but also lays down measures for post-recovery.

The report does not restrict itself to the social and economic dimensions but also incorporates other major global concerns. For example, it addresses the sustainable development implications associated with this crisis. It reminds us that the world has not been prioritizing sustainable development efforts. And that this lack of effort and initiative will cost us a lot. It would lead to grave impacts. Had we focus on attaining Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, the world would have been better prepared. There would have been stronger economies, better health care systems, and resilient societies.

Nonetheless, the report is imbued with a positive outlook on the future. Despite all, the crisis would strengthen economic and social cooperation throughout the globe. The report focuses on the importance of learning from the crisis and incorporating those lessons in our future actions. As the report states, we know what is to be done. It has been laid down in the roadmap for 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. By adequate investment in the same, our society would be further strengthened for any future ordeals.

Conclusion

UN through its Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity Report is displaying an agile response towards the management of this global crisis. It has promised to deliver help by setting up of COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and facilitating requisite efforts all across the world. This report acts as a reminder of the need for unified efforts to eliminate the adversities of COVID-19.

As stated by Antonio Guterres, “This human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies – and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.” Thus, the situation calls for worldwide collaboration. It is the collective effort of humans that can protect and help other humans.

Limiting oneself within the border of one’s nation will not prove fruitful to anyone. It is high time that everyone joins hands and executes concrete efforts to put an end to this pandemic sustainably, equitably and resiliently. This is the only way that we would be able to restore society and economy into an improved version of itself.

Author: Avani Laad  from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

Editor: Shalu Bhati  from Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.

Explained: Disaster Management Act (DM Act)

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.

                                                                                                                     ~ Stephen Hawking

The people of India are going through a complete lockdown for 21 days started on 24th March 2020, in bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, that has claimed over 11,00,000 lives across the world so far and has been declared a global pandemic in nature by the World Health Organization (WHO). This lockdown has brought everything to halt in India except the essential services.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose and no vaccination has been invented yet and thus, the most effective solution to control the spread is social distancing, as it is communicable and the symptoms may take around two weeks before they are clearly visible. Given the large demography of India, it was only wise to put a lockdown in the early stage of the pandemic.

The Union Home Ministry said that in an order under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to declare 21 days countrywide lockdown to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 pandemic. Directions are issued that district and state orders should be effectively sealed. The states are directed to ensure there is no movement of people across cities or on highways. Only the movement of goods should be allowed and that, district magistrates and police superintendents would be personally responsible for the implementation of these directions.

Also, all offices of the Government of India and State Governments, and their autonomous bodies and corporations shall remain closed, except those dealing in defense, treasury, public utilities (including petroleum, CNG, LPG), disaster management, power generation, post office, national informatics center, water, sanitation, police, home guards, prisons, etc. Hospitals, medical establishments, clinics, dispensaries, laborites, and allied services will also remain functional.

There is no country that is totally impervious from any catastrophe. However, the magnitude of such catastrophes may vary. Therefore, various nations take measures to prevent a disaster and also to recuperate if such a disaster occurs. Disaster management can be referred to as the planning, organizing, and management of the resources in order to curb the calamity and lessen the impact of the disaster by responsibly acting on it.

Therefore, the need for management of disaster was realized by the State and The Disaster Management Act was enacted by the Parliament in the Fifty-sixth Year of the Republic of India on 26th December 2005. It was enacted as the central Act to deal with disaster management. Principally it provides for the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidents thereto. This act foresees three categories of Disaster Management structure in India at National, States and District levels.

Significance of this development

As this disease is a contagious disease the major steps to be taken to curb the effect of it is to stop the infection and for that, it is advised by the WHO that ‘social distancing’ shall be maintained which will, in turn, lead to decrease the spread through sneezing or coughing. Social distancing here means that two persons must maintain a distance of at least 3 meters between them so that the infection does not spread.

In lieu of the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, the Government of India has imposed a nationwide lockdown and it also passed an order to seal the state and district borders to stop the exodus of migrant workers. This was an important step as the coronavirus has been deemed to be a pandemic and the cases in the country crossed the 5000 mark.

These steps were taken by the Central Government in conformation to the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Section 35 of the Act states that the Central Government shall take all such measures as it deems necessary for the purpose of disaster management. It also states that the Centre must ensure that the state governments are also working towards the same goal.

Salient features of the DM Act

The Disaster Management Act was enacted in India on 26th December 2005 by an act of Parliament. The Act was enacted to provide for the potent management of disasters or matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The following are the features of the Disaster Management Act, 2005:-

  • Disaster Management Act, 2005 comprises 79 sections and 11 chapters.
  • The Act covers all aspects of disaster management i.e., planning, avoidance, mitigation, response, and resurgence.
  • This Act was the first statute that defined the term ‘disaster’ and ‘disaster management’ in its whole sense under Section 2(d) and Section 2(e) respectively.
  • It provides an institutional structure for monitoring and implementation of policy for which the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) was established.
  • All the roles and responsibilities at all levels of government, starting from the Central Government right up to Panchayat and Urban Local body level is the matrix format.
  • The Act follows the regional approach; therefore, it will be beneficial not only for disaster management but also for developmental planning.
  • NDMA and SDMA perform their function to prepare for the disaster and lessen the menace at their respective levels.
  • District Disaster Management Authority is also established under this Act to work effectively at the district level.
  • As per the provisions of this Act, financial mechanisms like Disaster Response Fund and Disaster Mitigation Fund shall be created at the national, state and district level to reduce the severity of the loss incurred due to the catastrophe.
  • The developer of this Act also emphasized preparing communities to cope with disasters, so it also stresses on a greater need for information, education and communication activities.
  • It also focuses on vital affairs such as early warning, information dissemination, medical care, fuel, transportation, research and rescue, evacuation, etc. to examine, whether the agencies are active.
  • The provisions of this Act also prescribe the penalties to be imposed on any person in case of an offense (as provided in the statute) being committed by him.

The abovementioned features of the Act make it an exemplary statute that helps in the prevention of the disaster by readily preparing for it beforehand and also in successfully recovering from a disaster. The Act ensures that necessary steps are taken by various factions of the government for the prevention and reduction of disasters.

Its relevance W.R.T. COVID-19

On 24th March 2020, The Ministry of Home Affairs invoked Section 6(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act and directed the ministries or departments of the Government of India, state and union territory governments and authorities to implement the measures laid down in the central order. Section 10 of NDMA authorizes the central authority to issue guidelines and directions to several state government with respect to addressing disasters.

Section 10(2)(1) of the Act allows the National Executive Committee to give directions to governments regarding measures to be taken by them. The Union home secretary, who is the chairman of the National Executive Committee, delegated power to the Union health secretary in this regard.

The offenses and penalties are provided in Section 51 to Section 60 of the Act.

Under the provisions of this Act, any person who refuses to comply with the directions of the Central Government shall be liable to imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both, according to Section 51 of the Act.

According to Section 53 of the Act, whoever misappropriates or appropriates for his own use the money or materials provided for disaster relief, shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to a term of two years or with fine, or with both.

According to Section 54 of the Act, any person who makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to a panic shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or fine, or with both.

Earlier in March, the ‘misgiving’ of information on ‘chicken as a carrier of Coronavirus’ on social media, cost the poultry industry an estimated loss of Rs 1.6 billion per day, according to the reports of the All India Poultry Breeders’ Association. Despite the clarification by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), not only did the culling of chicken continue but also played havoc in the lives of chicken breeders, traders and allied sectors.

Recently a PIL was been filed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla IAS in a similar regard that deliberate fake news can cause panic in the society. Therefore, the Centre said that the creation of panic is an offense under the Act and an ‘appropriate direction from the top court would “protect the country from any potential and inevitable consequence resulting from a false alarm having the potential of creating panic in a section of the society’.

The central government has sought a direction from the Supreme Court that no media outlet should print, publish or telecast anything on COVID -19 without first ascertaining facts from the mechanism provided by the government. But if a person or channel does so then they’ll be charged under Section 67 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which states the direction to media for communication of warnings, etc.

These are the major provisions of the Act which came into effect after the lockdown was imposed in the country. Many other provisions were also in effect which were deemed to be necessary for the containment of the corona virus disease.

Conclusion

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 has thus played an important role in a fight with the highly contagious novel COVID-19 or commonly known as coronavirus. It was passed to enable the central government to provide a legal framework for setting up a National Disaster Management Authority under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister of India.

While the tactic of the Act does not specifically allocate the control of a pandemic like COVID-19, the powers of the NDMA under Section 6 of the Act can broadly be expounded to give a unified command to the central government to effectively manage a disaster throughout India by making it mandatory for the government to take all such necessary measures which will help curb the disease.

Under the DMA, 2005, the COVID-19 outbreak is needed to be listed as a disaster, allowing broad powers of the central government to deal with the pandemic by setting policies, strategies and guidelines for disaster management to ensure timely and efficient response. Section 38 of the DMA imposes on the states the obligation to obey NDMA’s directions.

To conclude, whenever there is a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, an emergent measure such as Disaster Management Act in the current situation, needs to be taken for the interest of a larger public even at the cost of some inconvenience.

Authors: Dhanesh Desai from Amity Law School, Noida and Pragya Narang from The Northcap University,Gurugram.

Editor: Arya Mittal from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.

COVID-19 and international relations

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

One must take note of the remarkable date of 22nd March, 2020 when each individual in India was expected to show up in support of all those professionals who have been constantly striving towards battling the deadly Corona virus that has caused thousands of deaths across the globe. As known to all, this virus originated in Wuhan, China during the month of December, 2019.

In order to understand the reasons behind increasing mortality due to this virus, one must attempt to acquire sufficient understanding of the anatomy of Corona virus. As per a report by the World Health Organization, these viruses belong to the Coronaviridae family and they attack both humans and animals. It is important to know that the recent corona virus found in humans in Wuhan was not previously recognized and is posing threats to human race including syndromes like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The virus that primarily originated in China recognizes bats as a dominant carrier but the WHO experts assert that there are a couple of other animals that act as medium of transfer of virus from animal species to humans. In order to ascertain other sources of this virus, environmental sampling was conducted from the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market and other surrounding markets in China. It is important to note that this virus does not exist in air but rests on a surface.

In order to avoid the transmission of this virus, it is important that people refrain from establishing any physical contact with each other. As per a report by the WHO, two of the drastically affected cities of China are Wuhan, Guangdong and Sichuan. The researches and statistics presented by the WHO are predominantly accelerated through reports by these provinces in China. One must know that this virus did not develop within other countries but spread merely due to people coming in contact with the infected from across the globe.

Viewing this pandemic crisis with an international perspective, it can be said that the need of the hour is a strong collaboration between nations irrespective of the former disparities because one must understand that eventually its human fighting for human.

Its spread throughout the globe

Before one dwells into the intricacies of the virus and its consequences at a global scale, it is important to understand the accurate meaning of what exactly is a Pandemic disease and in which circumstances is a disease considered Pandemic. As per the definition provided by the World Health Organization, an influenza pandemic is said to have occurred when a new influenza virus emerges and spreads across the globe and the major problem surrounding this is the fact that people have less immunity against this Pandemic disease. COVID 19 is now a Pandemic disease owing to the fact that it has affected thousands of people across the globe.

One must have good knowledge about the routes of transmission of Corona virus so as to ascertain preventive measures pertaining to the same. The World Health Organization reports assert that COVID 19 is transmitted through droplets and fomites due to the unprotected physical contact between the infected individual and the rest of the world. A common notion surrounding influenza virus is that these are predominantly air borne but COVID 19 is found not to be air borne but merely through physical contact.

The transmission of virus amongst nations occurred at an extremely fast pace. In countries like India, most of the patients who were found infected with this virus, had international travel history and did not develop this within the country. In absence of any certain cure of COVID 19, the only way of minimizing the disastrous effect of this disease is all sorts of attempts to prevent this. Social Distancing is the only way that can prevent spreading of this virus among the masses. As per the WHO report, almost all the regions across the globe have reported confirmed corona cases. These regions primarily include Western Pacific, South East Asia, Region of Americas, European region and Eastern Mediterranean region.

Its effect on international relations

The outbreak of this deadly disease not only killed people in large numbers but also adversely affected the global economies and international relations amongst the nations. For instance, India witnessed a 45 minute closure in the SENSEX which had adverse impacts on the economy as a whole. The Chinese economy is bound to witness a slowdown due to it being the epicenter of the virus but one must pay attention to the impact on the existing trade tensions between US and China.

As per the phase one agreement between the two countries, China promised to bring about an increase in the imports of goods and services manufactured and provided by US respectively but due to this pandemic crisis, there is a high probability that China might not adhere to its promise owing to the economic slowdown it is currently witnessing. The financial markets across nations have rattled. This is clearly evident from the crashing GDP of nations across the globe and the heightened issues of sustaining market forces within almost every nation.

It should also be noted that amid all the tensions, nations presently stand united in the battle against corona virus. As per a newspaper report, the Russian army was sent as a part of medical help to Italy. It must be known that Italy has been facing extremely harsh conditions in terms of spread of the deadly corona virus. In less than three months, the virus has resulted in most of hospitals being occupied by hundreds of sufferers.

Approximately, fifteen thousand have been infected as of 13th of March, 2020. This noble initiative by Russia is actually helping Italy fight the health crisis that it is going through. It is pertinent to note that leaders from across the nations have been appealing masses to follow and encourage social distancing in pursuit of preventing more cases of COVID 19 that could arise in future. Looking at the collaboration amongst nations, it can be contended that this health crisis has had varying impacts on the relations amongst nations in monetary as well as non- monetary terms.

Critical analysis and probable way forward

Analyzing the current situation in India and across nations, it is important to note that only the citizens themselves are capable of controlling the spread of this virus through maintaining considerable distance amongst them. They must avoid visiting any public place and should practice self- isolation in order to prevent any further spread of this virus. Leaders of nations across the globe have been trying to convince masses into practicing social distancing through several platforms of communication like social media, press, radio and television. As a researcher, it is important to analyze that if the spread of COVID 19 is not contained during these months, it might heighten up to the third stage which if at all happens, will be difficult to deal with.

The only way forward is to strictly adhere to the government released instructions until the countries are able to contain the virus. This shall not only help the masses residing within a particular country but also will stop the uncontrolled transmission of Corona to other countries because people tend to visit different countries following work, vacation, etc. Restricting movement from one country to another shall also solve the issue of quick transmission of virus and so as if at all the initiative of self- isolation does not work in favor of the citizens, then the government may adopt the strategy involving restriction of movement not within the country but between two or more countries.

Conclusion

The Pandemic crisis of COVID 19 is not resolved but is still progressing in terms of number of deaths across the globe. So, asserting any statement of conclusion will not be appropriate because the issue has not yet witnessed a downfall. It is pertinent to note that the Pandemic crisis has led to change in economic and trade relations that the neighboring countries share, yet it is interesting to know that all these countries stand in unity against the virus and are striving hard to control the situation. Apart from this, it is important to understand that this virus primarily spreads through social contact as it requires a surface to settle down unlike other influenza viruses that are air borne.

Awareness regarding the anatomy and spread of virus amongst the masses is important so that they are not carried away by fake information. Detailed understanding of the scientific origin of Corona virus is important to judge the veracity of information being shared majorly across the social media platforms. It should be understood that the masses tend to believe a piece of information when they are in a state of panic. The same has been happening across the globe, due to the Pandemic crisis which eventually results in unnecessary panic where the time could have been productively used in discovering and following innovative preventive measures in a pursuit of combating the spread of COVID 19.

Author: Meghna Bhatt from NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai.

Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

WHO and COVID19

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

The COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the recently discovered corona-virus, which was unknown before its recent outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11th March 2020 as the coronavirus, which came into knowledge as recently as December, had rapidly claimed more than 121,000 people as its host from Asia to the Middle East, Europe, and the United States by then.

 The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asserted that the number of cases outside China had grown thirteen-folds and the number of affected countries had tripled in the last couple of weeks before the declaration. Tedros said that while many countries could succeed in suppressing the spread of the virus within their territories, some failed to act fast enough or effectively enough to contain the spread. A pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, is defined as the “worldwide spread” of a new disease.

Significance of this development:

An epidemic refers to the alarming rise in the spread of a disease within a specific community. By contrast, the WHO defines a pandemic as a global spread of a new disease; it refers to the spread of a disease, rather than the severity of the illness it causes. During prior press briefs, the Organization maintained that the COVID-19 had “pandemic potential”, called it a “public health emergency of international concern”, but stopped short of actually declaring it a pandemic.

 “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death,” said Dr. Tedros on March 11.

However, he said that such a declaration did not change what was being done and what has to be done, either by the WHO or by the different countries. The rapidly multiplying number of cases in China were concerning but did not suggest a pandemic. But when the total number of cases beyond China increased, and spread to all continents, except Antarctica, it helped to inform the WHO’s pandemic declaration. Such declarations signal that continued spread is likely, and that countries should prepare for the possibility of widespread community transmission. It also updates travel policy and prompts countries to prepare and plan for the quarantines and possible disruptions to public events, if necessary. It can also allow a head-start for the development of therapeutics and vaccines.

Criteria for declaration of a pandemic by the WHO:

A pandemic declaration is fairly unusual and was last made during the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak. If the situation is not too serious to be concerned about, such a declaration is deemed as a cause of unnecessary panic and precautions. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a corona-virus related to COVID-19, for example, infected about 8,000 people across 26 countries of the world in 2003 but did not reach the pandemic status.

The WHO officials appeared to be indicating that the declaration was fueled by the slow and inadequate responses by some countries as the virus continues to expand its reach. Tedros said that the organization has rung the alarm bell loud and clear and that it cannot repeat it enough times that the course of the pandemic could still be changed for good. Michael Ryan, WHO Director for Health emergencies said that “there is no mathematical formula, no algorithm for making a pandemic declaration.” He said the decision came only after serious internal and external consultation because the implication of the word is quite huge.         

Role of the WHO in international arena:

The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded in 1948 with an ambitious objective- ‘the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health’. Its constitution defines 22 wide-ranging functions, of which the first was ‘to act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work’.

The constitution of WHO is notable for the scope and breadth of the agenda it lays out for the organization. Health is described as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ and the ‘enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and social measures’. In its first two decades WHO was probably best known for the application of technical and medical expertise to infectious disease control- such as its eradication programs for malaria and smallpox.

In the 1970s WHO began to reflect fundamental changes in the international economic and political environment, which culminated in demands for the organization to provide more technical assistance to developing countries. The promotion of primary health care as a means by which health care should be delivered to greater effect but as part of a more fundamental economic and social restructuring has been at the focus of the Organization. The WHO wanted to promulgate the idea that health depends on much more than the delivery of health services.

The 21st Century global health layout requires an action plan which could be made effective globally when globalization of trade, travel, information, human rights, ideas, and diseases is rising to new heights by the day. The new global health era is highly multi-faceted and requires higher coordination of effort, priorities, and investments. “The World Health Organization plays an essential role in the global governance of health and disease; due to its core global functions of establishing, monitoring and enforcing international norms and standards, and coordinating multiple actors towards common health goals,” writes Jennifer Ruger, Associate Professor at Yale University. Global health governance requires the World Health Organization to lead as the common spokesperson on behalf of the member nations and effective implementation of the organization’s core global functions to ensure better effectiveness of all health factors. 

Progress made under the guidance of the WHO:

In the past, strong leadership of the World Health Organization has helped shape several captious global health pathways including the awareness regarding the importance of health in trade debates, human rights context, partnerships, treaties, etc. Working with 194 member states across six regions, and from more than 150 offices, the WHO staff are united in a shared commitment to achieving better health for everyone, everywhere.

Over the past years, the WHO has gone through various permutations in prioritizing different aspects of different categories, and its effectiveness in doing so has been the subject of analysis and criticism. Prospects of health improvement are enhanced by the transfer of medical and public health knowledge and technology from one part of the globe to another and all countries benefit from international norms and standards and sustained global advocacy for health.

The WHO has successfully ruled out the primary challenge of globalization that relates to global inequalities and externalities in terms of health and health facilities. The organization has improved the distribution of health facilities and has succeeded in focusing the attention of the world on the importance of individual health in the rise of a nation.  

Critical analysis:

Dr. Tedros said that the situation is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector, therefore every individual must be involved in the fight. The Organization has been criticized for not making the appropriate declaration earlier, however, Mike Ryan, head of the agency’s health emergencies program, admitted in a press conference that the agency feared that countries may interpret a pandemic declaration as a sign that efforts to contain the virus have failed and they no longer need to try. He added that he was worried, not about the word but, about the world’s reaction to it- whether it will be used to call action, for a fight or an excuse to give up. On one hand, while the declaration has been made to awaken the countries who refused to act even after loud warnings, there is a belief annexed to such declarations that the battle has already been lost.     

Conclusion:

The COVID-19 has infected 196,106 people and has claimed almost 7,869 lives worldwide, but the WHO is continuously repeating that even in absence of sufficient medicines and vaccines, quarantines and precautions could successfully help prevent the spread of the disease and also cure the victims before they succumb to the infection. The organization hopes that the declaration of the pandemic would improve the standard of actions taken to combat the disease and end the widespread trouble soon. 

Author: Padmaja Dubey from Faculty of Law, University of Allahabad.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala

Coronavirus: Legal angle

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

“No epidemic is local” is one of the most thought provoking remarks once made by Belgian Microbiologist Pitor Piot and now the milieu is such that the virus, popularly known as the Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV,  first discovered in the 1960s and named after the Latin word ‘corona’ (meaning crown) due to its shape, is spreading exponentially. As of February 6, 2020, the total number of persons who are suspected to be infected stands at 28,344 with 565 deaths around the globe.

The virus spreading trans-border has already affected 26 Countries, making it the third most sprawled contagion after SARs & MERs. India too, is witnessing the adversity of the outbreak as till date, 3 positive cases – all from Kerala – have been reported along with 5123 people being kept under surveillance and 1 under isolation.

What is coronavirus?

The outbreak was first zeroed down when, on the 31st December of 2019, the government of China informed the WHO about the plethora of pneumonia cases particularly in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. The WHO on the 9th of January, 2020 reported the cause of the contagion to be a virus called Coronavirus.  

Scientists tracked the inception of the virus to be bat,making it cognate of SARs (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) & MERs (Middle East respiratory syndrome), which too originated from mammals. However, the situation gets more critical with nCoV as in case of SARs and MERs, the virus, to develop the ability to infect humans, first had to attack an intermediary host such as camel or civet cats, but the Coronavirus is capable of infecting humans directly from the respiratory tract of Bats.

How it affects the body

The coronaviruses belong to the group of RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses responsible for bodily proteins. However, RNA lacks the capability of filtering the hostiles due to its rapid mutative process. The outbreak leading to the sixth World Health Emergency is alleged to be an airborne contagion spreading through ‘close contacts’ such as through cough or sneezes. The symptoms are common cough, fever, and difficulty in breathing, etc. Tough till now there have been no signs of vaccines, scientists at the National Institutes of Health along with several companies are striving for an antidote.

Steps taken by the Indian government

The government, post-detection of the third infected person in Kerala, has set up a task force to counter the outbreak. The State government of Kerala declared the 2019-nCoV to be a “state-calamity” as all the positive cases in India hail from Kerala. Moreover, the Indian government airlifted 645 people from China which includes 7 Maldivians, and all of them tested negative for the virus. The government sought to expand the thermal screening of passengers from 7airports to 20, along with an increase in the number of laboratories where the virus can be tested. The check is not only limited to aerodrome; the Mumbai Port Trust been directed to disallow shore permits to vessel setting in from China until health clearance. Following the Central government guidelines, a 24×7 call centre has been made operational along with rapid response teams deployed at key points such as Airports.

Laws in India regarding such epidemics

The legal framework in India is dicey when it comes to the prevention of infectious diseases. It is conceded that though the country has several tattered legal measures to counter epidemic, it is bereft of comprehensive legislation barring the archaic Epidemic Act, 1897.

The plague epidemic in Bombay led to the enactment of the 1897 legislation. The Act with its four sections, empowers the government to adopt transient measures & regulations to preclude the spread of the diseases along with imposing a penalty for disobedience of the regulations.

Additionally, Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) also warrants for punishment when a person contravenes an order promulgated by a public servant, thereby inculpating any person who contravenes any order which prescribes for non-spreading of infectious diseases.

On the other hand, The New Delhi Municipal Council Act, 1994 is a more broad-gauged Act when it comes to the prevention of communicable diseases & infections. Chapter XV of the Act which covers Sanitation & Public Heath provides for measures to prevent ‘dangerous diseases’, which is further defined under section 2(10)(b) of the Act empowering the Chairperson to declare a particular disease as dangerous via notification. The Act puts an obligation to inform about any dangerous disease along with measures such as removal of patients suffering from infectious diseases, disinfection & destruction of infected structures. The legislation empowers the Chairperson to impose special measures in case of an outbreak beyond the contemplation of the Act and hence makes it sufficient for exigencies.

The 1994 Act also provides measures which are to be taken to preclude any contagion such as disinfection of building before letting, an obligation to dispose of infected articles only after disinfection, and also empowers the Chairperson to restrict the sale of food & drinks.

Scope of improvement in medical laws

In India, there is immense scope of improvement in medical laws. At the rudimentary level, it is sine qua non to enact a comprehensive central legislation which not only comes into effect when there is an outbreak but also provides sufficiently for forestalling such outbreaks. Moreover, the complexity demands a balance between intellectual property rights and the rights of poor persons to have access to high priced antidotes.

Further, it is required that improvement in medical laws would also seek to fill the institutional voids as a result of which illiterate persons squander their monies on the services which are free of cost and also stand in a vulnerable position due to dearth of knowledge. It has also been evidenced that India holds a poor record regarding communication of risks of outbreaks and information to the World Health Organization which it is legally bound to do under the WHA54.14. Hence, it must be made compulsory for the government to disclose information at the first instance of detection.

It is a fact that while countering an epidemic, public health must be given primacy. However, legislation should also protect the data which is collected from the patients, which if not done, would infringe the right to privacy and hence a proper guideline as to the collection, dissemination, protection, and usages of data must be laid down to preserve confidentiality.

The development in the legal framework must also reflect the changes that were made in International Health Regulations, 2005 with regard to building a system where local governments hold the authority to respond rapidly without falling into the dicey floor of red-tapism. Compulsory disposition by patients should be brought into effect, which may go to the extent of forceful examination and if found positive, the person is to be hospitalized. Hence, what is required is that there must be a proper balance between the rights of individuals and endeavour of the State in securing public health.

Conclusion

At present, it is difficult to contemplate the anti-dote to 2019-nCoV. However, the government, with immediate effect, must enact a legislation to counter such exigencies more efficiently. The legislation is required to define the contours within which the officials should exercise their powers while dealing with an outbreak. It is a fact that archaic legislation like The Epidemic Act, 1897 can no longer be effective.

Thus, instead of relying on contingency measures, a permanent legal backing must be created which not only addresses the exigencies faced during an outbreak but also prevents and provides for measures which prevent such contagion.

Author: Ishan Mazumder from West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata.

Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

How clean is the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’?

Reading time: 5-6 minutes.

The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched amidst great pomp and fanfare by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 2nd October, 2014. Its aim is two-fold: one, to achieve full sanitation by 2nd October, 2019 in a span of 5 years; and two, to achieve the Gandhian dream of a clean India. Achievement of sanitation and clean water facilities is also mandated by the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 adopted by the United Nations Member States, including India.

What are the salient features/aims of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan?

The following are the salient features of the Abhiyan:

  • Make India Open Defecation Free (ODF): India has one of the highest rates of open defecation in the world due to its largely rural population with no proper toilet facilities. Despite the launch of a Sanitation Programme in the 1980s itself, open defecation has been a huge problem and Swachh Bharat seeks to combat this.
  • Eradication of Manual Scavenging : The evil of the caste system continues to prevail in India through the practice of manual scavenging which is prohibited by law.
  • Impact behavioural changes regarding sanitation: The mission aims to influence and change the mindset of people so as to promote consciousness among them about both self and community hygiene and other related aspects.
  • Public-Private Partnership: Another aim of the mission is to rope in private agencies in myriad fields to help achieve complete sanitation coverage by 2nd October, 2019.
  • Municipal Waste Disposal : The mission aims to encourage the people to segregate waste properly and ensure proper mechanism for its safe disposal.
  • Strengthen Urban Local Bodies (ULBs): The mission also aims to strengthen the efforts of the ULBs to deal with waste disposal, sanitation, upkeep of infrastructure etc.
  • Toilet Conversion: Majority of the rural population in India uses insanitary toilets that are dilapidated and unscientific, leading to serious health and sanitation problems. Conversion to flush based toilets will help mitigate these problems.

How can Swachh Bharat Abhiyan promise a life with dignity to people?

Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees to every person the right to life and personal liberty. The Supreme Court, through a plethora of judicial decisions, has expanded the ambit of Article 21 so as to include a host of rights within it, the most important being the right to live with dignity.

One of the very first cases in which right to dignity was upheld as a part of Article 21 is Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration wherein the Court observed that right to dignity is guaranteed by the Preamble of the Constitution itself. In Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator UT of Delhi, a landmark case on right to dignity, the Supreme Courtheld that right to life under Article 21 is not a life of mere animal existence but a life that constitutes an expression of the human self.

The Supreme Court in Bandua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India asserted that the importance of right to live with dignity is also founded upon Article 39(a), Article 39 (e) and Article 41 of the Constitution. In the recent landmark cases of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors. and Common Cause v. Union of India, the Supreme Court reiterated that human dignity is an important part of the Constitution and right to dignity falls within the ambit of Article 21.

Despite a rich jurisprudence on the right to live with dignity, people of India are constantly denied this right. Sanitation and hygiene are important for a person to lead a dignified life and this is what the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan seeks to achieve.

Has Swachh Bharat Abhiyan helped to improve the sanitation coverage in India?

It is heartening to note that about 98 million toilets have been constructed in a mere span of 4 years and the rural sanitation percentage is at an all-time high of 98%.

According to the data from the Open Government Data Platform (OGD), approximately Rs. 7000 crore has been allocated as Central Outlay and Rs. 3500 crore as State Outlay for urban water supply, treatment and sewerage.  However, there is no mention about the funds allocated for the same in rural areas.

Also, a total of 1053 number of projects were  sanctioned for urban water supply, sewerage, drainage and solid waste management under the two major component of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), namely, Urban Infrastructure & Governance (UIG) and Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small & Medium Towns (UIDSSMT) The level of investment for this is Rs.58, 915 crore.

Is everything rosy about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan?

The World Health Organization (WHO), in a 2018 press release, lauded India for the success of the Swachh Bharat Mission by asserting that at the present rate, the reduction in open defecation and the provision of better sanitation facilities will prevent diarrheal deaths and add almost 14 million years of healthy life.

In a major show of appreciation, it has been recently announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be honoured by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the prestigious ‘Global Goalkeeper Award” for his substantive efforts to reform the health and hygiene situation in India.

Despite such progress and global recognition, obstacles remain.

Firstly, the process of declaring a village as ODF is fraught with many loopholes. Many villages only barely manage to achieve the seven aims of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan mentioned earlier and thereby exist as ODF only on paper. Concerns have been raised about the authenticity of the data submitted by State Governments regarding declaration of villages as open defecation free.

Topping the list of these concerns is the state of Uttar Pradesh, which has achieved 94% sanitation coverage in a very short period, thereby raising doubts that the State Government is masking fake data. Even a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development recommended that State Governments re-examine the areas already declared as ODF.

Secondly, the issue of solid waste management still persists. Thirdly, mere construction of toilets does not really ensure sanitation. Multiple reports by various NGOs have raised concerns over the over-construction of non-functioning toilets which are either connected by faulty pipes or are not dug properly. The treatment of human excreta is also another cause for concern as the release of untreated human excreta into nature gives rise to a host of diseases. This negates the very objective that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan seeks to achieve.

The way forward…

The Bloomberg Health Index 2019 ranked India at 120 out of 169 countries in the world. India is ranked lower even than some sub-Saharan neighbours and fellow members of BRICS.  According to the WHO recommendations on ‘spending targets for health’, to achieve universal healthcare, a country must spend 4-5% of its GDP on healthcare and allied services.

India allocates barely 2% of its GDP to healthcare. This meager allocation itself shows the apathy of the government towards the improvement of healthcare in the country. Universal healthcare can only be achieved by starting at the ground level and this includes the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities to all.

The author would like to make the following suggestions to improve the sanitation situation in India:

  • Establishment of a Monitory Body in each district to oversee the construction of toilets.
  • Establishment of partnerships with renowned NGOs like Sulabh International to provide quality construction of toilets.
  • Spreading awareness upon the importance of sanitation and disposal of waste in both urban and rural areas.
  • Emphasis on the use of bio-toilets and eco-friendly toilets.
  • Reliance on international models and standards.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Kaushik Chandrasekaran from School of Law, Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru.