Exit from the Covid-19 Pandemic, mask and protect us well.
Organization (WHO) declared that an outbreak of the viral disease Covid-19—first identified in late 2019 in Wuhan, China—had reached the level of a global pandemic. Citing concerns with “the alarming levels of spread and severity,” the WHO called on governments to take urgent and aggressive action to stop the spread of the virus.
Over the next 12 months, a varied global response to an unprecedented public health crisis unfolded. Some governments were quick to impose lockdowns and travel bans, and implemented various strategies requiring or promoting practices such as universal mask wearing, social distancing, following the advice of emerging scientific knowledge, and models. Some governments were able to implement comprehensive emergency responses that sought to protect not only the right to health, but other rights such as an adequate standard of living including the rights to housing and water, as well as other forms of social protection. Others—most—struggled to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, while some indulged in denying the threat to people’s lives and health that Covid-19 posed, while also taking advantage of it to restrict rights including freedoms of speech, assembly, access to information, and political participation.
The question for the international community, for governments around the world, and for the multilateral institutions and corporations who hold the keys to a rights-respecting exit from the Covid-19 pandemic, is not whether it is technically possible, but rather whether they have the willingness to abide by their human rights commitments to make it happen.
As we enter the second year of a global pandemic, there are key actions governments should take to prevent further human rights backsliding and ensure an equitable exit from this global public health emergency. Governments should cooperate and develop strategies, including by regulating and holding companies accountable, to ensure universal and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
Governments should protect the rights of healthcare workers and other essential workers, especially by bolstering occupational health and safety measures.
Measures to protect against the spread of the virus should be in line with international law. This means that when quarantines or lockdowns are imposed, for example, governments should ensure access to food, water, health care, education, support services for people with disabilities, and services for survivors of gender-based violence. Any tracking systems or other technologies used to implement public health measures should be transparent and subject to regular review and oversight. Governments should seek to combat the spread of misinformation on the pandemic while also protecting the right to freedom of expression, and ensuring that any restrictions on movement, assembly, or association are nondiscriminatory, limited in duration, and proportional to the public health threat.