Civic Liberty and Public Health

The US is the most affected country bearing 32% of global (COVID-19) disease burden. A prominent influencing factor is the fundamental percept of individual freedom, as enshrined in the constitution and supported with the first amendment. Across the US, people are protesting about the compromise of personal freedom with the Stay at Home orders. Coronavirus has challenged all frontiers of humanity, its evolution and exposed our fault lines, irrespective of the countries, economies, ethnicities, ideologies, and our model of governance.

Civic liberty or public health – How do we achieve the right balance? Finally, balance also has a context and background. While there is a tendency on part of the state to erode individual freedom, the situation with Coronavirus is obvious. The inability to impose restrictions will definitely compromise the health of the society and ultimately the individual. In fact, not doing so will abrogate the state’s duties of providing safety for the individual. The scientific principle that underlines the “flatten the Curve” is provided along with a link to the international tracker of individual freedom across the globe. Also, expert opinion from Human Rights Experts and Legal Expert from Brooking, Harvard, University of Chicago, and Columbia University is cited in my blog. Realtime R(not) factor can be tracked for your county from the link provided herein.

What is compromised? What is indispensable?

COVID has opened a dialectical discussion on individual freedom and individual freedom that can harm the wider community. Freedom of movement is enshrined in the first amendment. To a few, these are considered at odds with each other. However, it’s a matter of perception. In the case of COVID-19, the common good outweigh individual freedoms.

When can we consider individual freedom compromised?

Ideally, we can consider that individual freedom is compromised if it results in (1) enhanced surveillance powers that compromise privacy (as in China, drones, cameras, and Bluetooth trackers) (2) suspension of rights, (3) control over information; and (4) delayed elections.

None of these are used here in the US. So, it is wrong to construe that freedom is compromised. More so, the federal government has declared an emergency. Nancy Gertner, a senior lecturer on law and a retired federal judge, says that the types of surveillance measures lately used in South Korea might even be feasible here, if somewhat less likely. “The issue is whether the measures are proportionate with the purpose. Since this is a public health emergency, we’re not dealing with the usual rules and regulations.”

Testing and stepwise removal of the restriction to movement

Therefore, restrictions could ease once widespread testing for the virus becomes available. Once the Govt. ramps up the testing, then you can dovetail the precautions according to who’s vulnerable. If you’ve got no idea, you quarantine everybody. But if you can test widely you can also titrate the response. However, it worth noting that, RNA testing and not testing the antibodies, is important. Thus sensitivity and specificity of a test become important. Sensitivity is used for screening, whereas, specificity is used for diagnosis. in case of Corona, we can’t wait for the antibodies to develop since those take time to develop after the infection and before the antibodies become evident, the person is infective (even if asymptomatic) and can potentially shed the viruses. Thus, personally, I am averse to antibody testing for screening, though the opposite is currently practiced.

Lesser restrictions in favor of more fundamental freedoms is more a policy concern rather than a matter of law. Temporarily accepting lesser freedoms for the good of the country and the wider population, in general, is acceptable in order to regain fundamental freedoms of movement more quickly and permanently our, to earn a living, and to attend events and gatherings. Protests such as these are uncalled for since we don’t need proof to weigh the cost versus benefits.

How best to mitigate the concern?

Freedom of movement, due to Lockdown secondary to COVID-19, should be tied to the growing, declining curve of the infection and or testing. It cannot be blanket freedom for the entire nations. States, Counties, and Cities are displaying a distinct pattern. Those which are on the rising side of the curve, also called hotspots, should definitely have “Stay at Home” Order. Those on the declining part of the curve should be tallied with the R(not) factor (explained later). and if the R(not) is declining below one, then we should consider the removal of restrictions.

While the outcry for compromise of individual freedom is healthy, a governance and policy framework to monitor and remove the temporary restrictions on individual freedom should be tracked, monitored, and reported to provide transparency.

Citations

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2761556?widget=personalizedcontent&previousarticle=2764283

New restrictions on civil liberties during coronavirus

Freedom and privacy in the time of coronavirus

COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker: https://www.icnl.org/covid19tracker/

https://news.uchicago.edu/story/fight-against-covid-19-how-much-freedom-are-you-willing-give

https://www.cjr.org/analysis/coronavirus-press-freedom-crackdown.php

Tracking Realtime R(not) factor https://rt.live/

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