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COVID-19: responding to the next pandemic, states should act fast and comply with human rights

States facing future pandemic crises should “act fast to contain outbreaks, using tried and tested, effective measures, implemented in a rights-compliant way,” the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has said. Responses should be “data-driven, evidence-based, and incorporate human rights provisions”.

The Assembly’s Standing Committee was debating a report by Andrej Hunko (Germany, UEL) on “lessons for the future” after assessing how governments responded to the pandemic – the first of five major reports into different aspects of COVID-19.

In a resolution approved today during a meeting by tele-conference, the parliamentarians said some States had opted for “nationalist isolation and repressive and authoritarian responses”, instead of “cool-headed and warm-hearted, evidence-based, internationally co-ordinated, human rights-compliant, effective action”.

They added: “Many States also seem to have realised the danger they were in too late, or had not wanted to realise the danger. Even at the European and international level, including at the WHO, the impression of a tardy reaction is hard to ward off.”

“The price of the initial inaction, subsequent slow response, overhasty measures and premature re-openings may well be paid in lives lost, as well as in possibly lasting damage to our political, democratic, social, financial and economic systems,” they pointed out.

The Standing Committee listed measures States should take to deal with COVID-19, including implementing “physical distancing, as far as possible on a voluntary basis, and – if necessary – rights-compliant shutdowns or lockdowns for the time it takes until active community spread of SARS-COV-2 is reduced to a level controllable through rigorous testing, data protection-compliant contact tracing, quarantine and self-isolation".

All public health response measures should “respect human rights, be gender-sensitive, involve women in decision-making in a meaningful way, and protect vulnerable groups of the population”.

PACE also called for reform of the WHO by making it independent of voluntary contributions to fulfil its essential functions, giving it the power to visit member States unannounced in a public health crisis, strengthening the International Health Regulations, and ensuring it faced independent, ideally parliamentary, oversight.