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Punishing Compliance with International Law: The Omicron Variant and the International Health Regulations (2005)

On 24 November 2021, the government of South Africa reported the presence of a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to the World Health Organization. The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Evolution (TAG-VE), an independent group of experts, designated the new variant, denominated “Omicron”, to be a “Variant of Concern” (VOC). The TAG-VE's preliminary analysis of the evidence indicated that the mutation in the Omicron variant could entail a “detrimental change” for COVID-19 epidemiology. A potential increase of transmissibility, lower capacity of detection through PCR testing, as well as a higher risk of reinfection, are major sources of preoccupation. According to the WHO, existing data on several of these points is growing but still inconclusive. The hopes of multiple countries, mostly from the Global North, of gradually turning the page on COVID-19 are slowly being shattered by the emergence of the Omicron variant. The long-awaited biennial 2021 Ministerial Conference at the World Trade Organization was postponed. It is yet another dire realization that, as long as the SARS-CoV-2 virus keeps spreading…

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International Economic Law in a Time of Global Perils: Omicron and other COVID variants, Climate Change, Human Rights, and Development

The World Trade Organization decided to indefinitely postpone its 12th Ministerial Conference, originally scheduled for this week (30 November to 3 December), due to travel constraints for many delegations coming from countries that had already imposed travel bans and other restrictions due to the new Omicron variant.  The 12th Ministerial was slated to take up a…

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Why the rush? A call for critical reflection on the legal and human rights implications of a potential new international treaty on pandemics

Background: the push for an international treaty on pandemics At the close of the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA) on the 1st of June 2021, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Director-General remarked: ‘One day – hopefully soon – the pandemic will be behind us, but we will still face…

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From Eunomia To Eusophia: Planning a better future for the human world

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired much wide and deep thought about the human condition. A global phenomenon, like climate change, it has challenged deep-structural aspects of the organisation of the world.   It has challenged nationalism in requiring a cross-national response, at the level of policy and in complex practical measures. It has challenged established relationships between…

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Some Vaccination Questions, Ethical and Legal

It’s difficult to think of a more pressing problem today than how scarce coronavirus vaccines should be distributed between and within states. Newspapers are full of discussions of ‘vaccine nationalism,’ of the EU-UK-Astra Zeneca row, or of the limited availability of vaccines in the developing world. For us as international lawyers, obviously, the further issue – one to…

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