On June 18, 2020 the FCIL-SIS Continuing Education Committee hosted two webinars on Law Librarians Combatting Infodemic During COVID-19. This post recaps the first webinar on Asia, Europe, and Africa. A resources handout, slides, and recordings with far more information than could possibly fit into the recap can be found on the FCIL-SIS Continuing Education Committee webpage.
Alex Zhang shared updates on issues in countries across Asia and introduced the FCIL-SIS Asian Law Interest Group’s current project collecting and sharing valuable information on COVID-19 in the region.
Alex identified three legal frameworks granting authority to address the public health crisis: constitutions, preexisting legislation, and new legislation.
Some countries relied on constitutional provisions to grant the state power to address COVID-19. Examples include Article 41 of the Japanese Constitution, Article 76 of the South Korea Constitution, and Interpretation 690 of the Taiwan Judicial Yuan Constitutional Court.
Other countries already had legislation in place that they were able to rely upon, including India’s Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 and 2005 Disaster Management Act, and Mainland China’s Law on Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases Act of 2004 (last amended 2013).
Still others enacted brand new legislation to address the public health crisis. Examples include Singapore’s Covid-19 Temporary Measure Act of 2020 and Philippines’ Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020.
Technology and privacy
Using the example of China, Alex discussed two uses of technology to control the spread of COVID-19 that raise privacy questions. First, drones flying in remote areas and telling people spotted not wearing masks to go home (video). Second, requiring individuals to install a health tracking application on their smartphone and display a green QR code generated by the tracker to enter public spaces. Individuals assigned yellow or red QR codes must quarantine until their QR code turns green. The health, location, and other data collected in relation to generating the codes implicate many privacy concerns for the individuals required to install and use this tracking application.
Mapping Asian Legal Responses to COVID-19 Project
Alex and Sherry Chen are currently collecting primary and secondary sources to create a database on Asian legal responses to COVID-19. Many librarians have contributed sources to the project so far, leading to the project’s first publication, a newsletter providing narrative discussions of country responses and links to relevant sources. Recognizing that data trackers were already tracking some of this information, Alex and Sherry set out to provide added value by tracking countries not fully tracked elsewhere, such as Afghanistan and Yemen, and saving all sources for continued reference even if the resources disappear or are modified elsewhere.
Alison Shea discussed the European Union response to COVID-19 and legal issues in selected jurisdictions.
The EU does not have many explicit public health governance powers. As a result, the EU response has been largely financial, focusing on providing PPE, state aid, and supporting research. They have created a helpful website, reopen.europa.eu, that aggregates travel, services, and health and safety information for EU countries.
One legal issue of note is how COVID-19 has impacted free movement across borders within the EU. The Schengen Area originated from the 1985 Schengen Agreement and generally removes border controls to allow free travel within the EU, but EU countries unilaterally closed borders in light of COVID-19, restricting the free movement usually available in the region. The European Commission doesn’t have real enforcement mechanisms on internal border opening and closing, so the EC provided recommendations related to gradual border reopening through COM(2020) 550 on May 13, 2020 and COM(2020) 399 on June 11, 2020, but these are only recommendations.
COVID-19 has also impacted fundamental rights in the EU. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) enforces the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and, accordingly, released COVID-19 related bulletins, on equality, non-discrimination, racism, and privacy. The Council of Europe has also been working to protect human rights during the public health crisis.
Legal Issues in Selected Jurisdictions
Alison recently convened a group of reporters to start creating narrative reports on responses to COVID-19 across Europe. While this effort has just begun, Alison shared some interesting initial findings from a few countries.
The Czech Republic has been dealing with cross border worker issues arising from reciprocal and non-reciprocal border shutdowns.
Finland is also grappling with cross border worker issues, particularly in connection with Sweden. Finland has been reopening but keeping strict restrictions in place for Sweden due to Sweden’s more hands off approach to the crisis.
The French Constitutional Court affirmed an emergency law enacted in light of the crisis.
Germany is implementing the Corona-Warn-App for contract tracing. The application appears to do a good job maintaining privacy protections. Courts have upheld health regulations requiring face coverings.
Italy is running into some tricky constitutional issues related to emergency measures.
In terms of resources, an Africa CDC website has been in the works for a few years, but recently became fully operational and is a valuable resource for information on COVID-19. In addition, AfricanLII is collecting laws and scholarly commentary and making it available as quickly as possible. South Africa’s laws are generally available on AfricanLII within two to three days of Gazette publication, but laws from some countries in West Africa have taken weeks to arrive. AfricanLII is processing laws to add to the database as quickly as possible. The delay from some jurisdictions has led to residents not being able to access the laws applicable to them for weeks. Residents have had to rely on the news for this information and there has been some litigation over the delays.
Other entities collecting COVID-19 legal resources include Kenya Law, Juta Law South Africa, and Lexis COVID-19 Centers for South Africa. Other COVID-19-related resources of interest include Africa Medical Supplies Platform, a socio-economic tracker from Finmark Trust, and commercial news from Webber Wentzel and ENSafrica. Afrobarometer is generally an excellent resource for socio-economic data. The resource has yet to post COVID-19 data so researchers can rely on Finmark Trust’s tracker for now but check for any updates from Afrobarometer down the line to obtain supplemental information.
Beyond litigation over delays, legislation has also faced numerous other legal challenges across the region. Some national level litigation has focused on constitutional compliance issues. Other litigation has focused on public health legislation considered inadequate and not updated since colonial times.