Freedom of movement during a pandemic

We’ve all seen the news breaking — spring breakers defying social distancing protocols, Australians flooding Bondi beach, Italians breaking lockdown protocols, Sri Lankans getting arrested for curfew violations. What do all of these things have in common?

Humans are exercising their right to freedom of movement.

If you look at Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, here are the key statements:

  • a citizen of a state in which that citizen is present has the liberty to travel, reside in, and/or work in any part of the state where one pleases within the limits of respect for the liberty and rights of others,
  • and that a citizen also has the right to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to his or her country at any time.

Source — Wikipedia — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights

Does the universal declaration of human rights give is the freedom to move? Yes, it does. But within the limits of respect for the liberty and rights of others.

In a COVID-19 world, are those who aren’t practicing social distancing violating the rights of others?

I would argue yes they are. They are violating our fundamental right to live. And I’m not alone in thinking this way. Here’s what the law states :

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 3 — “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 6 — recognizes the inherent right of every person to life, adding that this “shall be protected by law” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life”.

Source — https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/InternationalStandards.aspx

By recklessly ignoring social distancing protocols, I would argue, the offenders are violating my right to live. In turn, they can argue that social distancing protocols interfere with their right to live.

I think a more pertinent point is — during a pandemic is freedom of movement even a right that we can exercise? As liberals governments across the globe are struggling to contain the freedom of movement and the spread of the pandemic, conservative governments are fast becoming a case study for containment.

Governments such as China, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and even Sri Lanka have successfully enforced a combination of lockdown protocols, rigorous testing, contact tracing, and government-mandated quarantines.

If we have any hope of surviving this as a species and reducing the fallout humans will have to give up their freedom of movement. But what guarantee do we have of getting it back once the pandemic is over?

As governments forcibly put citizens in quarantine and crackdown on lockdown offenders, is this pandemic seeing an erosion of our civil liberties altogether? And are we giving it up willingly as we go into survival mode?

A few weeks ago I would have been appalled and outraged if a government had forced someone from their home into a government-mandated facility. I would have been equally stunned if the spring breakers are not allowed to party. Fast forward to March 15th, 2020 and I am openly advocating lockdown, the use of the military to enforce curfew and rallying around a conservative government and President. I am also whilst feeling extremely guilty for the plight of the daily wage worker, in favor of extended curfew.

Am I, Are We so ready to give up our rights to survive? Yes if our lives depend on it.

Impact-Driven Category Designer | Working group member Wicked 7