COVID-19 Emergency Measures and the Impending Authoritarian Pandemic
Journal of Law and the Biosciences, 1-33, 2020, DOI:10.1093/jlb/lsaa064
1 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2020 Last revised: 6 Nov 2020
Date Written: September 29, 2020
COVID-19 has brought the world grinding to a halt. As of early August 2020, the greatest public health emergency of the century thus far has registered almost 20 million infected people and claimed over 730,000 lives across all inhabited continents, bringing public health systems to their knees, and causing shutdowns of borders and lockdowns of cities, regions, and even nations unprecedented in the modern era. Yet, as this Article demonstrates—with diverse examples drawn from across the world—there are unmistakable regressions into authoritarianism in governmental efforts to contain the virus. Despite the unprecedented nature of this challenge, there is no sound justification for systemic erosion of rights-protective democratic ideals and institutions beyond that which is strictly demanded by the exigencies of the pandemic. A Wuhan-inspired all-or-nothing approach to viral containment sets a dangerous precedent for future pandemics and disasters, with the global copycat response indicating an impending ‘pandemic’ of a different sort, that of authoritarianization. With a gratuitous toll being inflicted on democracy, civil liberties, fundamental freedoms, healthcare ethics, and human dignity, this has the potential to unleash humanitarian crises no less devastating than COVID-19 in the long run.
Keywords: COVID-19, pandemic, democracy, human rights, authoritarianism, governance, regulation, public health, public health law, rule of law, World Health Organization, China
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