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The Final Act: Exploring the End of Pandemics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2020

Federica Paddeu
Derek Bowett Fellow, Queens’ College, Cambridge. We thank Dr. Freya Jephcott, Research Fellow in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Queens’ College for invaluable input, and Isabella Brunner and Florian Ettmayer for research assistance.
Michael Waibel
Professor of International Law, University of Vienna.


This Essay considers how adjudicators could determine the end of the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic. Considerable work examines the beginning and existence of pandemics and emergencies. By contrast, when either of these two phenomena end remains underexplored—creating legal uncertainty. This Essay reviews how pandemics as biological and social events end, considers how international bodies have approached the end of emergencies, and assesses what this might mean for adjudicators deciding on the end of the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic and related public health emergency.

The International Legal Order and the Global Pandemic
Copyright © 2020 by The American Society of International Law

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1 Oren Gross & Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Law in Times of Crisis: Emergency Powers in Theory and Practice 323 (2006) (“whether and when an emergency ceases to be such and is transformed into something else”).

2 Hafner-Burton, Emilie M., Helfer, Laurence R. & Fariss, Christopher J., Emergency and Escape: Explaining Derogations from Human Rights Treaties, 65 Int'l Org. 673, 674 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 E.g., Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, Arts. 20–25, Annexed to GA Res. 56/83 (Dec. 12, 2001), GAOR 56th Sess. Supp. 49, Vol. 1, 499; CMS Gas Transmission Company v. The Republic of Argentina, ICSID Case No. ARB/01/8, Award, paras. 379–82 (May 12, 2005).

4 Barbara Koremenos, The Continent of International Law: Explaining Agreement Design, at ch. 5 (2016); Krzystof J. Pelc, Making and Bending International Rules: The Design of Exceptions and Escape Clauses in Trade Law (2016).

5 Rosenberg, Charles, What Is an Epidemic? AIDS in Historical Perspective, 118 Daedalus 1, 2 (1989)Google ScholarPubMed.

6 Jeremy A. Greene & Dora Vargha, How Epidemics End, Boston Rev. (June 30, 2020), at

7 Rosenberg, supra note 5, at 2.

8 Slack, Paul, The Disappearance of Plague: An Alternative View, 34 Econ. Hist. Rev. 469, 473 (1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Marilyn J. Roossinck, The Mysterious Disappearance of the First SARS Virus, and Why We Need a Vaccine for the Current One But Didn't for the Other, Conversation (May 5, 2020), at

10 Christian McMillen, Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction 23 (2016).

11 Richard McKay, Patient Zero: Why It's Such a Toxic Term, Conversation (Apr. 1, 2020), at

12 Robert Peckham, After the End of Disease: Where Has SARS Gone? The Strange Case of the Disappearing Coronavirus, Somatosphere (June 8, 2016), at

13 Greene & Vargha, supra note 6.

14 Peter C. Doherty, Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know 49 (2013).

15 Rebecca S. B. Fischer, What's the Difference Between Pandemic, Epidemic and Outbreak?, Conversation (Mar. 9, 2020), at

16 WHO, Definitions: Emergencies, at “A disease can occur both as an epidemic or an endemic, depending on the relative number of cases. For example, consider a hypothetical locality with a population of 100,000 where the monthly incidence of gastrointestinal diseases in July and December is about 900 and 130, respectively. The occurrence of 1,400 cases of gastrointestinal diseases in July of a given year would be considered an epidemic, whereas the occurrence of 150 cases in December would constitute an endemic. On the other hand, the occurrence of a single case of a communicable disease, which is absent for a long period of time from the given area or population, may be labeled an epidemic.” Prakash S. Bisen & Ruchika Raghuvanshi, Emerging Epidemics: Management and Control 25 (2013).

17 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Principles of Epidemiology in Public Health Practice: An Introduction to Applied Epidemiology and Biostatistics 14 (3rd ed. 2012) (“epidemic occurring over a widespread area (multiple countries or continents) and usually affecting a substantial proportion of the population”).

18 Doherty, supra note 14, at 49.

19 New Zealand's First COVID Cases in 24 Days Came From the UK, BBC News (June 16, 2020), at

20 WHO Press Release , What Is Post-Pandemic (Aug. 10, 2010), at

21 Bisen & Raghuvanshi, supra note 16, at 25.

22 WHO Press Release, The Smallpox Eradication Programme – SEP (1966–1980) (May 2010), at

23 Dora Vargha, After the End of Disease: Rethinking the Epidemic Narrative, Somatosphere (May 17, 2016), at

24 Luisa Salomón, ¿Cómo Terminan las Epidemias?, Prodavinci (May 20, 2020), at

25 WHO Press Release, WHO Recommended Criteria for Declaring the End of the Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak (Mar. 4, 2020), at

26 At least, in the case of influenza epidemics. Jonathan Van Tam & Chloe Sellwood, Introduction to Pandemic Influenza (2010).

27 Richard Pebody, Why “Swine Flu” Is Now Considered a Normal, Seasonal Flu Strain, NHS Pub. Health Matters Blog (Jan. 28, 2016), at

29 WHO Press Release, SARS Outbreak Contained Worldwide (July 5, 2003), at

30 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SARS (10 Years After) (Mar. 3, 2016), at

31 Eisinger, Robert W. & Fauci, Anthony S., Ending the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, 24 Emerging Infections Diseases 413 (2018)Google Scholar.

32 McMillen, supra note 10, at 4.

33 WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19 (Mar. 11, 2020), at

34 Amy Mckeever, Coronavirus is Officially a Pandemic. Here's Why that Matters, Nat'l Geographic (Mar. 11, 2020), at

35 Karl Taro Greenfeld, When SARS Ended, New Yorker (Apr. 17, 2020), at

36 Gina Kolata, How Pandemics End, N.Y. Times (May 10, 2020), at

37 Nidal Moukaddam, Fears, Outbreaks, and Pandemics: Lessons Learned, Psych. Times (Nov. 15, 2019), at; see also Susan L. Murray, Fear and the Front Line, 382 New England J. Med. 1785 (May 7, 2020).

38 International Health Regulations, at 22 n. 114, May 23, 2005, 2509 UNTS 79 [hereinafter IHR].

39 IHR Article 12(4) lists five factors for determining whether an event constitutes a pandemic. Heath, J. Benton, Global Emergency Power in the Age of Ebola, 57 Harv. Int'l L.J. 1, 27 (2016)Google Scholar.

40 Id. at 14; cf. also Christian Kreuder-Sonnen: Emergency Powers of International Organizations: Between Normalization and Containment 153, 168, 180 (2019).

41 Including COVID, the WHO has declared six PHEICs to date. The Polio PHEIC was first announced on May 5, 2014 and last extended in April 2020. WHO Press Release, Statement on the Meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee Concerning the International Spread of Wild Poliovirus (May 5, 2014), at; WHO Press Release, Statement of the Twenty-Fourth IHR Emergency Committee (Apr. 8, 2020), at Zika lasted from Feb. 1, 2016 until Nov. 18, 2016. ECDC Press Release, WHO Ends Zika as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (Nov. 23, 2016), at

42 IHR, supra note 38, Art. 15(2).

43 Id. Art. 15(3).

44 Id. Art. 16.

45 Eyal Benvenisti, The WHO – Destined to Fail?: Political Cooperation and the COVID-19 Pandemic, 114 AJIL 588.

46 IHR, supra note 38, Arts. 12(5), 48(1)(b), 49(6).

47 E.g., WHO, Annual Report on the Implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005): Report by the Director-General, WHO Doc. A73/14, 9 (May 12, 2020); WHO, Polio Eradication: Report by the Director-General, WHO Doc. A73/12, 7 (May 5, 2020).

48 WHO Press Release, Fifth Meeting of the Emergency Committee Under the International Health Regulations (2005) Regarding Microcephaly, Other Neurological Disorders and Zika virus (Nov. 18, 2016), at [hereinafter Fifth EC Meeting].

49 IHR, supra note 38, Art. 15; Lawrence O. Gostin, Global health law 195 (2014).

50 Fifth EC Meeting, supra note 48.

51 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as Amended by Protocols No. 11 and No. 14 (European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)), Art. 15, Nov. 4, 1950, ETS; 5 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 4, Dec. 16. 1966, 999 UNTS 171; American Convention on Human Rights, Art. 27, Nov. 22, 1969. On which, see Human Rights in Emergencies, at chs. 2–3 (Evan J. Criddle ed., 2016); Gross & Aoláin, supra note 1, ch. 5; Higgins, Rosalyn, Derogations Under Human Rights Treaties, 48 Brit. Y.B. Int'l L. 281 (1977)Google Scholar; UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), CCPR General Comment No. 29: Article 4: Derogations During a State of Emergency, UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.11 (Aug. 31, 2001) [hereinafter GC29].

52 GC29, supra note 51, para. 1.

53 For example, the UK's derogations to the ECHR in relation to the Northern Irish conflict from 1969 until 2001. William A. Schabas, European Convention of Human Rights: A Commentary 597 (2015).

54 Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands v. Greece, App. Nos. 3321/67, 3322/67, 3323/67, and 3344/67, Commission Report paras. 143–44 (Nov. 5, 1969).

55 Greene, Alan, Separating Normalcy from Emergency: The Jurisprudence of Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, 12 Ger. L.J. 1764, 1774 (2011)Google Scholar.

56 GC29, supra note 51, para. 6; UN Human Rights Committee, Landinelli Silva v. Uruguay, 130, para. 8.3, Comm. No. 34/1978, UN Doc. Supp. No. 40 (A/36/40) (Apr. 8, 1981).

57 Sarah Joseph & Melissa Castan, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Cases, Materials, and Commentary 922 (2013).

58 GC29, supra note 51, para. 2.

59 ECtHR, Guide on Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, para. 10 (Dec. 31, 2019), available at

60 Council of Europe, Respecting Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights in the Framework of the COVID-19 Sanitary Crisis: A Toolkit for Member States, Information Documents, SG/Ing(2020)11, at 3 (Apr. 7, 2020).

61 A. and Others v. the United Kingdom, App. no. 3455/05, para. 177 (Eur. Ct. H.R. Feb. 19, 2009).

62 Joseph, Sarah, Human Rights Committee: General Comment 29, 2 Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 81, 86 (2002)Google Scholar.

63 Cf. also CMS, supra note 3, paras. 379–82 (“the crisis had been evolving toward normalcy over a period of time”).

64 Urbaser S.A. and Consorcio de Aguas Bilbao Bizkaia, Bilbao Biskaia Ur Partzuergoa v. The Argentine Republic, ICSID Case No. ARB/07/26, Award, para. 666 (Dec. 8, 2016).

65 LG&E Energy Corp., LG&E Capital Corp., and LG&E International, Inc. v Argentine Republic, ICSID Case No. ARB/02/1, Decision on Liability, para. 227 (Oct. 3, 2006).

66 Id., para. 228.

67 Id., para. 261.

68 Deference in International Courts and Tribunals: Standards of Review and Margin of Appreciation 8 (Lukasz Gruszczynski & Wouter G. Werner eds., 2014).

69 Viñuales, Jorge E., Defence Arguments in Investment Arbitration, in 18 ICSID Reports, paras. 69–72 (Viñuales, Jorge E. & Waibel, Michael eds., 2020)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

70 Gross & Aoláin, supra note 1, at 174–80.

71 E.g., Jack Goldsmith, Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11, at ix (2012) (“an endless war, and an endless emergency too”).

72 Kissler, Stephen M., Tedijanto, Christine, Goldstein, Edward, Grad, Yonatan H. & Lipsitch, Marc, Projecting the Transmission Dynamics of SARS-Cov-2 Through the Postpandemic Period, 368 Sci. 860 (2020)Google ScholarPubMed.

73 Fifth EC Meeting, supra note 48.

74 Gross & Aoláin, supra note 1, at 283 (“structural inability to deal credibly with permanent emergencies”).

75 Among others, these decisions mention, but do not analyze the global-local interface. Affaire Mamatas et Autres c. Grèce, App. No. 63066/14, para. 101 (Eur. Ct. H.R. July 21, 2016); Poštová Banka and Istrokapital v. Hellenic Republic, ICSID Case No. ARB/13/8, Award, para. 46 (Apr. 9, 2015), and Annulment, para. 19 (Sept. 29, 2016); Theodoros Adamakopoulos v. Cyprus, ICSID Case No. ARB/15/49, Decision on Jurisdiction (Feb. 7, 2020); Khalifa and Others v. Italy, App. No. 16483/12 (Eur. Ct. H.R. Dec. 15, 2016).

76 Greene, Alan, Derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: If Not Now, When?, 3 Eur. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 262 (2020)Google Scholar.

77 Gross & Aoláin, supra note 1, 283.

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