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Roadmap for Reform of International Legal Frameworks to Strengthen Cooperation in Responses to Public Health Emergencies

Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci, Dr Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott, Dr Irene Pietropaoli, Dr Jan van Zyl Smit, Dr Constantinos Yiallourides

This report forms part of the project The Role of Good Governance and the Rule of Law in Building Public Trust in Data-Driven Responses to Public Health Emergencies, a COVID-19 Rapid Response research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (grant AH/V015214/1).

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted cracks in the international legal frameworks aimed at dealing with public health emergencies (PHEs) of international concern. This Roadmap for Reform considers how these frameworks could be improved to strengthen international cooperation in addressing such emergencies.

International legal frameworks enable structured forms of international cooperation between States, international organisations (such as the WHO) and other actors operating on an international plane (including, Corporations and Philanthropic Organisations). Cooperation, as a component of attempting to achieve global solidarity, is critical in preparing for, identifying and responding to such emergencies. However it is clear from the experience with COVID-19 so far that existing legal frameworks have resulted in deficiencies in implementation and enforcement and, eventually, inadequate international cooperation in response to the crisis. This is partly explained by a failure to learn from previous crises, as well as a lack of clarity with respect to the applicable legal obligations. Hence the need for reform, which has been widely acknowledged.

This Roadmap should be read alongside other outputs of the project which provide analysis of some of the leading concerns and seek to provide principles applicable at the domestic level. The response to crises, and reforms needed at the international and domestic level cannot and should not be divorced from each other. The Roadmap has the benefit of hindsight and is not intended to critique specific decisions made by States, the WHO or other bodies, but rather to identify broad lessons to be learnt from the COVID-19 experience. It is also not exhaustive of potential reform ideas and must be seen within the evolving broader landscape.

The recommendations made in this Roadmap are organized according to (1) general recommendations concerning the obligations of States and other international actors; recommendations relating to different phases of a public health emergency, ranging from (2) preparation and prevention for PHEs and (3) notification of a PHE (4) responses to a PHE and finally (5) pathways for effective reform.

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