Wikipedia lets us know that:

A Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is a formal declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) of "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", formulated when a situation arises that is "serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected", which "carries implications for public health beyond the affected state's national border" and "may require immediate international action". Under the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR), states have a legal duty to respond promptly to a PHEIC.


On 30 January 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19, centered on Wuhan in central China, a PHEIC. [...]

It's unclear to me from that if a WHO PHEIC declaration (and thus the obligations following from that) are limited to an area or country that the WHO decides "to PHEIC" or is a PHEIC declaration on some concern, e.g. this-or-that-disease "is PHEIC'd" automatically entails that all IHR member countries have to respond similarly, e.g. report [all] cases of that disease. So what's the (geographical) scope of a PHEIC? Does the WHO have the latitude to "customize it"?


A PHEIC declaration does not apply to a specific area - it is just that, a declaration by the WHO that the Directory-General has determined that a public health emergency of international concern exists pursuant to Article 12 of the International Health Regulation (2005). Paragraph 5 of Article 12 states that

If the Director-General, following consultations with the State Party within whose territory the public health emergency of international concern has occurred, considers that a public health emergency of international concern has ended, the Director-General shall take a decision in accordance with the procedure set out in Article 49.

Paragraph 6 of Article 49 states that

The Director-General shall communicate to States Parties the determination and the termination of a public health emergency of international concern, any health measure taken by the State Party concerned, any temporary recommendation, and the modification, extension and termination of such recommendations, together with the views of the Emergency Committee.

Here, States Parties refers to all state parties to the IHR - so any declaration of a PHEIC is therefore applicable globally, and obligates state parties to notify the WHO of any local spread of the disease. Notably, the declaration of a disease to be a PHEIC does not actually introduce new obligations to state parties directly, but as states are required under Article 6 to

notify WHO, by the most efficient means of communication available, by way of the National IHR Focal Point, and within 24 hours of assessment of public health information, of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern within its territory in accordance with the decision instrument, as well as any health measure implemented in response to those events

the designation of the disease to be a PHEIC means that the event is notifiable, and as a result, the declaration of a PHEIC affects all state parties by definition.

However, if we refer back to Article 49, note that the Director-General is obligated to communicate temporary recommendations with regard to public health. These temporary recommendations are non-binding and time-limited, and are described further in Article 15, paragraph 2 of which states that

Temporary recommendations may include health measures to be implemented by the State Party experiencing the public health emergency of international concern, or by other States Parties, regarding persons, baggage, cargo, containers, conveyances, goods and/or postal parcels to prevent or reduce the international spread of disease and avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic.

Therefore, these temporary recommendations need not be globally applicable, and can apply to just one, or a few state parties.

In conclusion then, while the declaration of a PHEIC is applicable globally, the temporary recommendations issued as a result of the declaration are not required to be, and in general, aren't.

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