We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and upending people’s lives. But this is much more than a health crisis. It is a human, economic and social crisis. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has been characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), is attacking societies at their core.
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) is a pioneer of sustainable development and the home of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where each goal finds its space and where all stakeholders can do their part to leave no one behind. UN DESA through the Division for Inclusive Social Development (DISD), monitors national and global socio-economic trends, identifies emerging issues, and assesses their implications for social policy at the national and international levels. To this end, we are a leading analytical voice for promoting social inclusion, reducing inequalities and eradicating poverty.
The COVID-19 outbreak affects all segments of the population and is particularly detrimental to members of those social groups in the most vulnerable situations, continues to affect populations, including people living in poverty situations, older persons, persons with disabilities, youth, and indigenous peoples. Early evidence indicates that that the health and economic impacts of the virus are being borne disproportionately by poor people. For example, homeless people, because they may be unable to safely shelter in place, are highly exposed to the danger of the virus. People without access to running water, refugees, migrants, or displaced persons also stand to suffer disproportionately both from the pandemic and its aftermath – whether due to limited movement, fewer employment opportunities, increased xenophobia etc.
If not properly addressed through policy the social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic may also increase inequality, exclusion, discrimination and global unemployment in the medium and long term. Comprehensive, universal social protection systems, when in place, play a much durable role in protecting workers and in reducing the prevalence of poverty, since they act as automatic stabilizers. That is, they provide basic income security at all times, thereby enhancing people’s capacity to manage and overcome shocks.
There are various Human Rights, which are infringed during this pandemic like:
· Civil rights (such as the rights to life, liberty and security),
· Political rights (like rights to the protection of the law and equality before the law),
· Economic rights (including rights to work, to own property and to receive equal pay),
· Social rights (like rights to education),
· Cultural rights (including the right to freely participate in their cultural community), and
· Collective rights (like the right to self-determination).
Whereas, some of the other rights which are infringed during this pandemic are:
· The right to freedom of association;
· The right to freedom of movement;
· The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
· The right to just and favourable conditions of work;
· The right to an adequate standard of living;
· The right to social security; and
· The right of children to special protection.
· The right to health
The right to health-
Since this is a public health emergency, the first on the list of human rights being compromised is the right to health and access to healthcare. In line with Article 35 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, everyone has the right to access preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment. During the COVID-19 crisis, however, the number of people affected by coronavirus has broken all records, and as a result, healthcare systems are overwhelmed. With no adequate capacity in the system to meet their needs, healthcare professionals are turning patients away, costing a number of people their chance to exercise their right to healthcare.
Freedom of Movement-
In countries like India, Italy, as in France and Spain, authorities have imposed strict quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Following the closure of shops, sports and arts venues, lockdowns and travel authorisation documents have taken priority over freedom of movement, enshrined as it is in Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
In this category we can also include the right not to be stopped arbitrarily by police for aggressive inspections. However, these restrictions are legitimate if there is a serious risk to public health; the only fault of these measures is the fact that they have been imposed for a indefinite length of time. This also infringes the right to form association, as people are allowed to move of their houses. Country like India has implied Section 141 of the IPC, which prohibits the formation of Unlawful Assembly. The workers of different fields like workers at construction sites who have come from different states to work are not even allowed to go back to their houses, they have been struck at their workplace city.
Even the students who have been studying in different cities away from their home, are not able to go back to their homes and are suffering due to such lockdown. However, the government has made some provision for such people, but it is quiet impossible for the government to transfer all the people to their respective house.
The economic Right-
The pandemic has affected the economy to a great extent. With major cities on lockdown, organizations have had no choice but to dig into their business continuity and contingency plans. Ever since the first Covid- 19 case was confirmed in India, numerous companies have instituted a ‘work from home’ drill using critical resources to understand whether remote working conditions are feasible. That being said, remote working also has its limitations and cannot be carried out by other sectors like retail, hospitality, or manufacturing, leaving them no choice but to face business interruption. Employee safety is the need of the hour. Still, with no experience of dealing with a virus that has the potential to spread rapidly, most companies are brushing off their hands by asking employees to stay home. Some organizations, however, are implementing measures like temperature screening, disinfection of office premises, setting up Covid-19 response teams, distribution of Covid-19 precautionary packages.
The Economic right of the poor and lower middle class have been exploited to a great extent. Even the working class of people are suffering a lot, as they are unable to meet their daily needs and are not getting enough food as. Even the middleclass families who runs their own business are suffering at its peak, as they have no source of income and rather of earning there are only expenses being done, and eventually their savings are also being utilised. People are facing financial crisis due to this.
The right to Education-
Sometime in the second week of March, state governments across the country began shutting down schools and colleges temporarily as a measure to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s close to a month and there is no certainty when they will reopen. This is a crucial time for the education sector—board examinations, nursery school admissions, entrance tests of various universities and competitive examinations, among others, are all held during this period. As the days pass by with no immediate solution to stop the outbreak of Covid-19, school and university closures will not only have a short-term impact on the continuity of learning for more than 285 million young learners in India but also engender far-reaching economic and societal consequences.
The structure of schooling and learning, including teaching and assessment methodologies, was the first to be affected by these closures. Only a handful of private schools could adopt online teaching methods. Their low-income private and government school counterparts, on the other hand, have completely shut down for not having access to e-learning solutions. The students, in addition to the missed opportunities for learning, no longer have access to healthy meals during this time and are subject to economic and social stress.
The pandemic has significantly disrupted the higher education sector as well, which is a critical determinant of a country’s economic future. A large number of Indian students—second only to China enroll in universities abroad, especially in countries worst affected by the pandemic, the US, UK, Australia and China. Many such students have now been barred from leaving these countries. If the situation persists, in the long run, a decline in the demand for international higher education is expected.
Needless to say, the pandemic has transformed the centuries-old, chalk–talk teaching model to one driven by technology. This disruption in the delivery of education is pushing policymakers to figure out how to drive engagement at scale while ensuring inclusive e-learning solutions and tackling the digital divide.
Environmental and Natural Resources-
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The COVID-19 pandemic is getting more overwhelming by the day, with increasing lockdowns, a death toll of more than 7,000 people across the world, and a direct hit to the global economy. But if there's a sliver of good news, it's about how the spread of the new coronavirus has been decreasing air pollution, and possibly even saving lives in the process. The situation has continued to unfold since then, so those numbers won't stay current for long; but according to Burke, even conservatively, it's very likely that the lives saved locally from the reduction in pollution exceed COVID-19 deaths in China.
"Given the huge amount of evidence that breathing dirty air contributes heavily to premature mortality, a natural - if admittedly strange - question is whether the lives saved from this reduction in pollution caused by economic disruption from COVID-19 exceeds the death toll from the virus itself," Burke writes. The two months of pollution reduction, Burke calculates, has probably saved the lives of 4,000 children under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China.
That's significantly more than the current global death toll from the virus itself. Although this might seem a little surprising, it's something we've known about for quite a long time. Earlier this month, research suggested that air pollution costs us three years, on average, off our global life expectancy. "It is remarkable that both the number of deaths and the loss in life expectancy from air pollution rival the effect of tobacco smoking and are much higher than other causes of death," physicist Jos Lelieveld from the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia stated at the time. "Air pollution exceeds malaria as a global cause of premature death by a factor of 19; it exceeds violence by a factor of 16, HIV/AIDS by a factor of 9, alcohol by a factor of 45, and drug abuse by a factor of 60."
So, it's well established that air pollution really does kill. But Burke's analysis was just using data from China, and was completed before there was more information about how COVID-19 has affected the rest of the world. With the second largest number of cases occurring in Italy, and the country putting in place strict quarantine measures, satellite data over northern Italy have now shown a large drop in air pollution - specifically nitrogen dioxide, a gas mainly emitted by cars, trucks, power plants and some industrial plants. Using the Tropomi instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, images taken from 1 January to 11 March 2020 showed nitrogen dioxide dropping dramatically. "The decline in nitrogen dioxide emissions over the Po Valley in northern Italy is particularly evident," explains Claus Zehner, ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager.
"Although there could be slight variations in the data due to cloud cover and changing weather, we are very confident that the reduction in emissions that we can see, coincides with the lock-down in Italy causing less traffic and industrial activities."
For now, we don't have peer-reviewed studies measuring the true health impact reduced emissions will bring, but given what we know about the dangers of widespread air pollution, it's likely that there will be a direct benefit in the shape of fewer pollution-related deaths. Even such a tiny silver lining can hardly make up for the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. But these preliminary numbers demonstrate that this global health disaster is an opportunity to assess - which aspects of modern life are absolutely necessary, and what positive changes might be possible if we change our habits on a global scale.
Only an immediate and existential threat like Covid-19 could have led to such a profound change so fast; at the time of writing, global deaths from the virus had passed 20,000, with more than 400,000 cases confirmed worldwide. As well as the toll of early deaths, the pandemic has brought widespread job losses and threatened the livelihoods of millions as businesses struggle to cope with the restrictions being put in place to control the virus. Economic activity has stalled and stock markets have tumbled alongside the falling carbon emissions. It’s the precisely opposite of the drive towards a decarbonised, sustainable economy that many have been advocating for decades. The first thing to consider, says Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability science researcher at Lund University in Sweden, is the different reasons that emissions have dropped. Take transport, for example, which makes up 23% of global carbon emissions. These emissions have fallen in the short term in countries where public health measures, such as keeping people in their homes, have cut unnecessary travel. Driving and aviation are key contributors to emissions from transport, contributing 72% and 11% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions respectively.
International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it. Human rights law also recognizes that in the context of serious public health threats and public emergencies threatening the life of the nation, restrictions on some rights can be justified when they have a legal basis, are strictly necessary, based on scientific evidence and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, subject to review, and proportionate to achieve the objective.
The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting freedom of movement. At the same time, careful attention to human rights such as non-discrimination and human rights principles such as transparency and respect for human dignity can foster an effective response amidst the turmoil and disruption that inevitably results in times of crisis and limit the harms that can come from the imposition of overly broad measures that do not meet the above criteria.
This document provides an overview of human rights concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak, drawing on examples of government responses to date, and recommends ways governments and other actors can respect human rights in their response.
- ROHIT JAIN
(MANIPAL UNIVERSITY JAIPUR)