I REFER to Dr Noor Dzuhaidah Osman’s “Tackling public health as a national security issue”. Here’s a riposte.When Covid-19 started to spread from the People’s Republic of China to 20 other countries, and following the recommendations of the Emergency Committee, the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on January 30 last year so declared the outbreak as constituting a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).Serious public health events that endanger international public health may be determined under the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 to be PHEIC. The term is defined in the IHR as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease; and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”The IHR is a key international legal instrument that regulates the “international spread of disease”. It binds 196 states, including all member states of the WHO, of which Malaysia is a member. Malaysia has been a signatory to the IHR since 2007. Member states, including Malaysia, have reacted in a variety of ways to the WHO recommendations pursuant to the PHEIC. Some states have been stringent while other states have even fallen short of WHO’s recommendations.While Article 1 of the IHR does state WHO’s recommendations are not binding and Article 3(4) reaffirms that member states have “the sovereign right to legislate and to implement legislation in pursuance of their health policies”, that sovereign right is not unlimited. Article 3(4) itself makes clear that member states must exercise it “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law” and that in doing so “they should uphold the purpose” of the IHR.That said, Malaysia’s measures to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the pandemic have been made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342). In other words Malaysia, like other countries, have adopted the legislative model – up to now – to deal with emergencies by “enacting ordinary statutes that delegate special and temporary powers to the executive.”Unfortunately, despite sittings in July and November last year, Parliament did not pass legislation that would empower the relevant minister to declare a public health emergency – unlike in Singapore.While I agree with the writer the pandemic could be viewed as a national security issue, a declaration of public health emergency is good enough.If the pandemic is a national security issue, then the principal legislation to deal with the pandemic is the National Security Council Act 2016 (Act 776). But the Act has not been invoked to declare the whole of the country or part of the country as a security area under Section 18(1).Instead, the whole of the country has been, and continues to be, declared as an infected local area under Section 11(1) of Act 342. Hence the movement-control order regulations since the first declaration on March 17 last year.Covid-19 may be the millennial type of threat to national security – as the writer posits – but it is first and foremost a millennial type of threat to public health.And so a millennial type of public health legislation is required. – February 1, 2021.* Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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