According to reports, addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday, Michelle Bachelet hailed medical teams around the world working to rein in the COVID-19 outbreak, but said respect for human rights needed to guide the response.
“The rights of those under quarantine must be protected, including rights to food and clean water, the right to be treated humanely, access to health care, the right to be informed and freedom of expression,” the UN rights chief noted, adding, “All public health measures should be carried out without discrimination of any kind.”
Bachelet went on to voice concern about widespread use of quarantine to halt the spread of the virus.
“Quarantines, which restrict the right to freedom of movement, should be proportionate to the risk, time-bound and safe.”
Bachelet in particular voiced serious concern for “vulnerable groups” of people “living in collective institutions, who were likely to be more susceptible to infection.
She also said that the ongoing epidemic, which began in China, had “set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity”.
The remarks come after a range of countries have taken drastic measures to quarantine the sick to halt the spread of the virus.
More than 2,700 people worldwide have died of COVID-19 so far, and almost 80,000 have been infected, mainly in China.
Chinese State television citing government sources said on Thursday that China will postpone the re-opening of education facilities “in principle” amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The coronavirus is now spreading more quickly in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world than in China where the virus first emerged in the central city of Wuhan at the end of last year.
The disease was also detected for the first time in Estonia, Denmark, Georgia, Brazil, Pakistan, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Romania and Algeria.
South Korea and Italy have already emerged as new hotspots for COVID-19.
Iran has also taken numerous measures and canceled mass gatherings in the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere in the country to tackle the virus spread.