Pandemic: Building a Legal Concept for the Future

Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No. 2021-12

Washington University Global Studies Law Review (Vol. 20:611, 2021)

16 Pages Posted: 14 May 2021 Last revised: 13 Sep 2021

See all articles by Pedro Villarreal

Pedro Villarreal

Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law

Date Written: May 12, 2021

Abstract

No legal definition of a ‘pandemic’ is enshrined in any binding international law instrument. Instead, the official explanation of the term is found in non-binding guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), and remains vague at best. This circumstance is partially the result of a lack of consensus amongst the medical and public health communities on common denominators. Considering the resonance of declaring a ‘pandemic’, the absence of a clear-cut definition arguably hampers the reactions by the international community of states. The current analysis addresses the definitional gap in a broader context, by examining past attempts to introduce clear-cut yardsticks for determining when a ‘pandemic’ actually begins. The paper argues that a legal definition of ´pandemic´ with both descriptive and normative elements would greatly benefit the international community by guiding action to counteract future health emergencies. To this effect, the contribution posits a series of basic considerations for future conceptual debates on when a ‘pandemic’ is occurring, and whether legal obligations for states and international institutions ought to follow.

Keywords: international health law, pandemic declaration, World Health Organization, covid-19, PHEIC

Suggested Citation

Villarreal, Pedro, Pandemic: Building a Legal Concept for the Future (May 12, 2021). Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No. 2021-12, Washington University Global Studies Law Review (Vol. 20:611, 2021), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3845044 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3845044

Pedro Villarreal (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law ( email )

Im Neuenheimer Feld 535
69120 Heidelberg, 69120
Germany

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