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UNECE mobilizes regulatory authorities to advance risk management in pandemics

Risk is a part of our everyday lives. When we wear a helmet to ride a bike, for example, we accept a small inconvenience to reduce the risk of a fall or an accident. When a homeowner decides to retrofit their house, they incur a cost to shield against an earthquake or a flood. Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, striking the balance between decisive emergency measures to protect citizens’ health on the one hand, and the economic and social costs of these measures on the other, has posed complex policy and regulatory challenges.

The health crisis has also highlighted the related challenge of counterfeit and non-compliant goods. In countries in the UNECE region and beyond, an array of adulterated products including COVID-19 test kits, medicines and medical equipment, masks and even cleaning products have found their way to the markets and even to hospitals. These products originate from many different countries and are on sale on thousands of websites. No market surveillance authority will have the capability of checking every consignment that crosses national borders. The choice on which consignment to inspect, with which severity, is again a risk management choice. Relaxed controls expose communities to risks. Strict controls cause delays, just when these products are most needed.

Since 2010, UNECE has developed a large body of knowledge on how risk management can help public decision making. As part of its response to the pandemic, the UNECE Group of Experts on Risk Management for Regulatory Systems (the GRM Group) convened an online meeting aiming to enhance the understanding of risk, business continuity, and emergency management for all authorities. The meeting was held jointly with that of the Advisory Group on Market Surveillance or MARS Group.

Stakeholder shared experiences on the management of supply chains for goods such as ventilators, protective masks, and other key products to determine the name, location, turnover and other details for the companies involved in each component part.

Government representatives called upon UNECE to step up the collection of facts, sharing of experiences and development of best practises as inputs for the revision of a UNECE’ Recommendation to respond better to risks emerging from pandemics. As an immediate follow-up UNECE will launch a survey to document how authorities have used and are using risk management and emergency management resources in the context of the pandemic. Member states are also invited to present their findings at the next meeting of the UNECE Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies (WP.6), scheduled for 1-2 November 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.