Coronavirus: Protection of Health vs Violation of Rights?

Prior to 2020, if somebody had told me that there would be a time in which laws would prohibited people from social gatherings in groups larger than six, restrictions would require certain businesses to close at 10pm and face coverings would be mandatory on public transport, I would’ve said that they’ve read one too many of George Orwell’s novels. However, it now seems that adhering to what once would’ve been considered ‘excessively restrictive rules’ have become a part of our everyday life. 

Although some have chosen to rebel against the restrictions implemented, for the large part, people seem to be adhering to at least some of the measures that have been put in place. What is not yet clear is whether such adherence comes from a place of seeking personal protection against coronavirus or is instead done out of fear of punishment  However, what does seem to have been made clear by these restrictions and our response to them is that the vast majority of us are willing to make major changes to our everyday activities if the government mandates that we do so. In light of this, as a society we must ask ourselves the following question: are there any limits to the rights we are willing to surrender in order to gain protection from a perceived threat?

Protection of health or protection of rights?

It is widely accepted that one of the fundamental roles that government’s play is in ensuring the protection of our human rights. Some would argue that this extends to the protection of overall health. The question arises as to what we do when measures designed to protect our health seem to violate our rights. Some would assert that any suggestion that measures such as wearing masks and curfews may infringe upon our human rights is founded in fear based conspiracy theory. However, if restrictions that did indeed infringe upon our human rights were implemented, would we be willing to surrender such rights for the protection of our health and if so, is there any limit to that which we would be willing to surrender for the sake of protection?

The monopoly on ‘truth’

As each day goes on, COVID-19 restrictions seem less and less unusual. Mask wearing has become normalised, with even major brands creating ‘designer masks’ thus allowing health related measures to weave their way into the fabric of our psyche and everyday attire. This desensitisation is hard to stop. Although it may seem innocuous, what is indeed worrying is the censorship that governments and social media platforms have implemented as a means of ‘preventing misinformation’ and therefore saving lives. Countless numbers of posts that question the source of COVID-19 and its potential cures have either been removed by social media platforms or have been declared as ‘false information’ by ‘independent fact checkers’. The identity of these organisations is another discussion in and of itself but what does seem alarming is the way in which COVID-19 appears to have been weaponised by both governments and media platforms as a means of controlling the narrative regarding the virus.  

Ever since the advent of the internet, information has been disseminated across the web from various sources, some trustworthy and others not so. In previous times, internet based consumers were given the freedom to decide what they considered to be true and false with any responsibility for the effects of adhering to false information being deemed as one’s own burden to bear. However, this no longer seems to be the case. If indeed, much of the information spread regarding the virus is false, than rather than having been given the freedom to make our own decisions in light of it, we have simply been ‘protected’ from the chore of having to apply our intellect, research and ‘common sense’ to arrive at our own conclusions. 

The future 

Although becoming more accustomed to measures destined to protect our health may not be a negative thing in and of itself, the true challenge lies in preventing ourselves from becoming desensitised to the removal our rights and the implementation of measures that could place further limits on our expression. For now, it seems that the prevention of ‘misinformation’ appears to be confined to the area of health. However, I believe that a dangerous precedent has been set which heralds the beginning of a new era in which increasingly restrictive government measures will impact upon all areas of our lives and personal affairs.