The rapid spread of the coronavirus seems unstoppable as cases have been ramping up throughout the major parts of the world for the past few months. Of all coronavirus cases reported, 82.3% of those are active cases, 12.7% have recovered, while 4.9% died. Current statistics show that the US, Italy, and Spain have overtaken China with the most number of cases. Experts are not yet sure when this pandemic would end but they encourage countries to implement measures that will not only contain the virus but also protect its citizens.
Euronews, an online site that delivers breaking news, reported that Italy has the highest COVID-19 death rate with 110.34 per infection, followed by Spain (86.16), the Netherlands (70.96), Iran (68.91), and France (64.87). Among all age groups in Italy, those who are 80 to 89 years old are the most vulnerable (42.71%). This is followed by people who belong to 70 to 79 age group (35.7%), 60 to 69 (8.55%), 90 and up (9.6%), and 50 to 59 (2.65%).
While many countries are focusing on how to stop the spread of the virus, support our healthcare frontliners, and tackle the hit to the economy, other nations are taking a different approach. In the UK, the government has drafted emergency regulations to grant police new powers. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, the authorities now have the power to arrest and detain people they believe are infectious for up to two weeks. They can move them around from custody facilities including secure hospitals and can take blood or saliva from them by force, even if they are a child.
As governments attempt to address the pandemic, people are starting to witness a twofold approach that threatens our human rights which could impact hundreds of millions of people across the world. Indeed, it is no hyperbole to say that more people will suffer and even die as a result of the way governments choose to handle the crisis than from contracting the virus.
How Governments Can Abuse Their Power
After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, many countries took it into their hands to mitigate the impacts of the virus. During a crisis, governments play a huge role in making sure that their people are safe while addressing the problem. They need the flexibility to address emerging threats and to exercise all power vested in the state to alleviate the situation. While this is completely understandable, we need to be aware that this can unleash formidable executive power.
According to Common Dreams, an online site that provides breaking news and views for the progressive community, this pandemic could lead to a dramatic economic collapse as many schools and businesses are closing, thousands of companies are forced to decrease production or temporarily shut assembly and manufacturing plants, and millions of people who live from hand to mouth have already begun losing their monthly salaries. More and more people are depending on their governments to keep them alive and protected.
Many historical accounts have shown us that emergency measures are often abused. A crisis like this can be a platform for fascist leaders to order widespread human rights violations. This can even provoke a transformation from democracy to a totalitarian regime. Many people fear that the rapid adoption of policies that show how a government abuses its power can be the start of a much broader process curtailing basic political and civil rights. Such fears are valid since many people are now depending on their leaders, which can also be used against them. The people who will become the most affected, unfortunately, are those who live in marginalized communities.
Human Rights Abuses Across the World
Current statistics show that China appears to have slowed down the coronavirus. This is after the Chinese government implemented a forced quarantine for about 60 million people in Hubei for nearly two months. The country has also been known to take drastic and what some have called “draconian” measures to contain the virus. While the containment of the virus has been effective in China, many governments and human rights groups worry it has come at a high cost.
For one, the Chinese government has been trying to suppress vital information about matters of public interest not only to its citizens but also to the world. Li Wenliang, a 43-year-old doctor, is a tragic reminder of how the Chinese authorities’ preoccupation with maintaining ‘stability’ suppresses people’s right to information. The was one of the first to raise the alarm about what was then a mysterious new virus. He expressed his concerns with other medics in a private online chat, but was immediately reprimanded by police after his post about the virus reached a wide audience.
Li, unfortunately, died from the disease, triggering a public outcry and demands for freedom of speech. Many social media platforms are blocked in China, thus, many people are not free to express criticism toward the government. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, a Chinese Twitter user wrote that many of those who died due to the virus “will not even be numbers” because of censorship, and that “the only thing left is the agonizing cry of their family.” Some reports even showed that more than 1,200 corpses are being cremated every day by the Chinese government, but they are underreporting data.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, reports have shown how police and local officials have confined people for violating the government’s COVID-19 regulations. Many were detained in dog cages and forced to sit in the midday sun as punishment. The HRW reported that police have arrested hundreds of people in the capital city, Manila, and many parts of the country since Pres. Rodrigo Duterte put the main Philippine island of Luzon on lockdown. Those who were arrested allegedly violated curfew, social distancing, and quarantine regulations.
“Police and local officials should respect the rights of those they arrest for violating curfew and other public health regulations, which can be done while still allowing the Philippines government to take appropriate measures to combat COVID-19. Any mistreatment should be immediately investigated, and the authorities responsible held accountable,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW, said.
Additionally, the Israeli government had required its citizens to install smartphone apps, allowing officials to track individuals and determine whether they can leave their homes. In the UK, local elections have been postponed by a year and the police have been given powers to arrest suspected coronavirus carriers. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization, a new law in England can create new criminal offenses for people who don’t comply with detention orders.
Many human rights organizations have expressed concerns over the violation of human rights in the fight against the global epidemic. “Censorship, discrimination, arbitrary detention and human rights violations have no place in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic,” Nicholas Bequelin, the Regional Director at Amnesty International, said.