What Pandemic Rights?

What is the responsibility of the state to keep its citizens healthy? Who decides what is appropriate?

Where I live you are no longer allowed to walk along the streets, unless you are going to the doctor or the grocery store.  Police or other officials can stop you and ask where you are going. There are penalties if your reason isn’t deemed sufficient.

People in many parts of the word are facing similar restrictions. The idea is to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and put an end to the global pandemic. I applaud the concept, but must admit the implementation has me a little uneasy.

Some parts of Germany, I believe, have instituted a curfew. I’m not sure I understand why. If gatherings are limited to no more than three people, what does it matter when they take place? Curfews smack too much of martial law and civil unrest in my mind. Dictatorships impose curfews; democracies do not.

That is a simplification, but I suspect I am not the only person feeling this way. Freedoms we take for granted are being restricted in what governments feel is the public interest. Because the situation is considered urgent there is no consultation, no debate, the rules are announced and woe to those who don’t comply.

In a free society, should government be placing such restrictions on its citizens? There has been so much publicity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic that those who aren’t practicing “social distancing” are not doing so out of ignorance, they have made a choice. Is it right for the state to choose for them? And to punish if the rules are broken?

It becomes more complicated when the state is the health care provider. It could be argued that those breaking the rules aren’t entitled to assistance should they get sick. Shouldn’t that be their choice though?

In restricting gatherings, the state has already placed limitations on several fundamental “rights,” including freedom of association and the freedom to practice a religion. That it has the authority to do so is shown by the fact it has done so. But does it have the moral authority to impose these measures on society?

How do you balance the public “good” with “rights?” Who decides?

It seems these are not questions that can be debated rationally during this pandemic, but once things calm a little, I hope someone raises them. We have granted sweeping powers to our leaders, and only now perhaps are many people realizing just how broad those powers can be.

People have lost their livelihood as their places of employment are shut down by government. Does government have some responsibility in those cases? Can government compensate everyone for the losses they suffer in this pandemic? If so, where does the money come from? If it wasn’t budgeted, someone, at some point, is going to have to pay the bill.

It strikes me that there are far too many unanswered questions. Our societies have had plans, of a sort, of how they would respond to a pandemic. From where I sit, it looks like those plans have all been concentrated on the medical implications. Prevention seems to be the watchword – though maybe with COVID-19 it might have been cheaper for all of us to get sick at once and get it over with.

Which is easy to say – but certainly such an approach would see more deaths. How can you balance lives with economic disruption? Should you even begin to try?

The COVID-19 outbreak is only the beginning of the dialogue. I expect it to go on for years. I wonder if we will be satisfied with the outcome. Do you think you will be?


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