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Infectious agents posing a human security threat have been recorded throughout history. Today, COVID-19 poses a serious human security threat in the world, forcing governments to take extraordinary measures. Extraordinary measures, such as declarations of a state of emergency, basically determine the legal and operational resources available to respond to an emergency. Hence, it has implications for governments, the private sector and the general public. The legal authority of the state of emergency declarations during public health crises in federal countries basically relies on the emergency powers vested in the levels of government. Understanding the scope of state and federal emergency declarations and authorities and how they interact is, therefore, an important part of preparing for, and responding to, “public health emergencies”. This article, through a detailed examination of relevant laws and other countries’ experiences, attempts to shed light on the “public health emergency declaration” in Ethiopia with a particular focus on understanding the scope of state and federal emergency declarations and authorities.