By Prof Keith Syrett, Professor of Health Law and Policy (University of Bristol Law School)
The European Union has been widely criticised for its response to the outbreak of pandemic coronavirus (COVID-19) in early 2020. Still distracted by Brexit and, more recently by the Turkish migrant crisis, EU leaders were caught off guard by the rapid spread of the virus, initially into Italy. Member states took actions into their own hands, imposing border controls, banning exports of protective equipment and, later, banning mass gatherings, closing schools, and instituting lockdowns, while the EU appeared to be a largely impotent bystander.
At the height of the Ebola epidemic I wrote a blog post enumerating lessons that can be learnt by the international community. I continue to be concerned with the responsibility to protect [R2P] and its operation in West Africa especially focusing on the preventive arm of R2P. I also continue to examine any responsibility which the international community may have in preventing human suffering in fragile states.
To recap, in April 2014, the first cases of Ebola were brought to international attention. The outbreak started in Guinea, but quickly spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone with isolated cases in neighbouring Senegal and a transported outbreak in Nigeria. Without a hashtag to cling to or an ice bucket challenge to surmount, the world largely ignored the outbreak. It was not till selfless American and British aid workers, who contacted the deadly virus, were flown to their respective homelands for treatment, that the mass hysteria of an imminent biological apocalypse caused several governments around the world (outside West Africa) to begin to consider what they may do to avoid the virus killing their own citizens. Nevertheless, by October 2014 infections had occurred in the US and Spain. (more…)