Health

COVID-19: A lab for Covid-related laws

A new portal by UN agencies collates laws enacted by over 190 countries related to current pandemic  

 
By Richard Mahapatra
Last Updated: Thursday 23 July 2020
The United Nations agencies have started a portal to host all recent legal enactments to fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Photo: istock
The United Nations agencies have started a portal to host all recent legal enactments to fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Photo: istock The United Nations agencies have started a portal to host all recent legal enactments to fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Photo: istock

The United Nations agencies have started a portal to host all recent legal enactments to fight the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in what could be argued as the most expansive collation of laws and procedures related to a health emergency.

Called the COVID-19 Law Lab, this digital portal hosts all legal steps taken by 190 countries to fight the pandemic. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University have collaborated for this initiative. It is expected that 30 more countries/territories will upload their similar documents.

The pandemic is unprecedented as it has involved an almost complete shutdown of mobility and outer activities. It also involves personal protection like wearing a mask and also a complex ‘physical distancing’ protocol.

Besides, the pandemic has led to the closure of all inter-countries movements. There has been confusion over treatment and management protocols. Some 220 countries / territories have enacted various procedures backed by various enabling laws related to epidemics and health emergency.

“Laws and policies that are grounded in science, evidence and human rights can enable people to access health services, protect themselves from COVID-19 and live free from stigma, discrimination and violence,” Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator, said. “The COVID-19 Law Lab is an important tool for sharing good practices on laws and policies,” he added.

The portal shows what preoccupies the countries during this pandemic. Some 161 countries have enacted public / health emergency to tackle the pandemic. The highest number of legal procedures adopted — 383 — by countries relate to movement and distancing restriction.

It has listed some 165 laws / procedures enacted by countries related to access to medicine and intellectual property rights. Sharing medicines and formulae for even general treatment has been a big challenge due to restrictive laws and trade practices.

“Strong legal frameworks are critical for national COVID-19 responses,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said. “Laws that impact health often fall outside the health sector. As health is global, legal frameworks should be aligned with international commitments to respond to current and emerging public health risks. A strong foundation of law for health is more important now than ever before,” he added.

The collation initiative aims at dissemination of procedures and practices for effective enactment of laws. But this is also the first initiative to start studying governance response to a pandemic and to gauge what works and what not.

“We must learn lessons from the early stage of pandemic policies to implement the most effective laws going forward — the COVID-19 Law Lab allows us to do just that,” Katie Gottschalk, executive director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center, said.

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