COVID-19: ‘Rapid and sustained' rights-based responses to epidemic outbreaks

“The lessons from the suffering of the past few months must be that we need to act fast to contain outbreaks, using tried and tested, effective measures, implemented in a rights-compliant way, to avoid a disastrous outcome in terms of lives lost and burden of sickness, as well as knock-on effects on the economy and on human rights”, said the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, meeting on 2 June by video-conference.

Adopting the report by Andrej Hunko (Germany, UEL), the committee recommended, in particular, that member States:

- take “rapid and sustained” action during outbreaks of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 on their territory, to reduce human contact through social/physical distancing, if necessary through lockdowns/shutdowns, for however long it takes to reduce community spread of the virus to a controllable level.

- procure protective gear for health personnel and other essential personnel, and boost health system capacity by, in particular, increasing the equipment to diagnose and treat patients (diagnostic tests, oxygen, respirators) and the number of available acute-care beds in hospitals.

- put in place conditions to isolate and care for symptomatic cases that do not require immediate hospitalisation, on a voluntary basis.

According to the parliamentarians, member States should take decisions based on evidence-based scientific opinion; organise broad community testing of all persons present on their territory; actively promote research, development and production of medicines, diagnostic kits, vaccines, and personal protective equipment; and reaffirm the fundamental role of parliaments in their mandate of overseeing government actions.

The adopted text also proposes that global health security should take a ‘One Health’ approach, embracing the interactions between animals, humans and the environment which contribute to disease.

In addition, the committee called for reform of the WHO to allow it to better fulfil its function and proposed to establish “an enduring system of inspection at the United Nations for current and future high consequence biological events”, and possibly a permanent designated facilitator in the Office of the UN Secretary-General.

Finally, the committee recommended that the Committee of Ministers “urgently re-establish an intergovernmental steering committee on public health”, with a view to building a regional system to support the responsible international and European institutions in their reaction to a pandemic.

This report will be debated at the PACE Standing Committee which will meet on 26 June.