Research Seminar 7 October 2020

Zhiqiong June Wang: ‘Law in Crisis: A Critical Analysis of the Role of Law in China’s Fight against COVID-19’

Without any prior warning, nor a declaration of an epidemic (controlled) area, an order was issued by the Wuhan Government on 23 January 2020 to shut down all transport in Wuhan, which effectively locked down the entire city of 11 million residents. Measures were soon taken to lock down the entire Hubei province of 45 million residents city-by-city. President Xi Jinping in his speech described China’s campaign against COVID-19 as a “people’s war”. However, the war has not always been people against COVID-19 but also, sometimes, people against people. From a legal perspective, little attention seemed to have been paid to the requirements and procedures established by law.

While discrepancies between ‘law-in-books’ and ‘law-in-action’ is not unusual, China’s responses to COVID-19 in early 2020 offer us the first opportunity to examine Chinese ‘law-in-action’ in a time of crisis since the 1990s after the relaunch of reform in China in 1992. This paper analyses the role(s) of law in several critical aspects in China’s fight against COVID-19 during the period of its initial outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019 and early 2020. It first provides an analytic framework on the existing laws on the prevention and control of infectious diseases and responses to public health emergencies, focusing on the relevant mechanisms, institutions and procedures under the law. It then analyses several critical aspects of the operation of the legal framework, including information disclosure, the management of the crisis, and the legality of the various post lockdown measures and practices. It reveals that few legal requirements were in fact complied with during the fight against the COVID-19 emergency and as such, Chinese law in a time of crisis was indeed itself in crisis.

Olive Otedola-Olusanya, Masters of Research student

Research Proposal Paper: An Assessment of Legal and Societal responses to Reproductive Coercion in Australia.