Countries violating international law by imposing coronavirus travel restrictions against China


TORONTO, February 14, 2020 – Dozens of countries are violating international law by imposing travel restrictions against China during the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), according to a new commentary published in The Lancet. York University global health law professor and senior author Steven J. Hoffman says nearly all of the world’s global health law scholars came to this conclusion after applying the interpretive framework of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and reaching a jurisprudential consensus on the legal meaning of Article 43 of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

The IHR is the legally binding system that governs how 196 countries and WHO collectively protect people worldwide from the global spread of disease while avoiding unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.

“Responses that are anchored in fear, misinformation, racism, and xenophobia will not save us from outbreaks like COVID-19,” says Hoffman. “Upholding the rule of international law is needed now more than ever. Countries can start by rolling back illegal travel restrictions that have already been implemented and supporting the World Health Organization and each other in implementing the IHR.”

Steven J. Hoffman is an international lawyer and director of the Global Strategy Lab at York University’s Faculty of Health and Osgoode Hall Law School where he specializes in global health law, global governance and institutional design. He previously worked for the World Health Organization and now focuses his research on transnational health threats like infectious disease outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance.

Hoffman and lead author, Roojin Habibi, Research Fellow with the Global Strategy Lab at York University, are available for interviews about the ongoing violations of international law during the COVID-19 outbreak and can speak to the following issues articulated in The Lancet:

  1. How travel restrictions can slow down the international response to public health emergencies like the current COVID-19 outbreak
  2. Why travel bans violate the International Health Regulations
  3. What is needed from governments and international public health authorities to contain the COVID-19 outbreak

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