The global pandemic (Covid-19) is generating deep interdisciplinary debates, in which Law participates.
The main current controversy is related to the fact that there are approximately three billion isolated human beings and a worldwide paralysis of economic and social activities.
We will briefly expose the central matters that provide a framework for analysis and paths to follow.
- The massive defense against the pandemic
The decision to isolate people is mostly applied in all countries because, even those who initially opposed, ended up adopting these measures.
The model of “conjectural action” is the analytical model because there is insufficient information. Decisions are based on probabilities and in favor of life because it is considered a higher value. The problem at hand is the problem of “asymmetric information” because much is known about the cost of supporting the measure, but nothing about the cost that is being avoided. Hence, it is relevant to explain what would happen if nothing was done, in order to sustain citizens’ trust. In law, the “precautionary principle” is regulated, which establishes that, in the face of serious danger, the lack of certainty should not be used as a reason to postpone the adoption of effective measures.
This justification evolves whenever more information is obtained and uncertainty decreases. That is why, in the prevention of tragedies, the initial action is massive and then it evolves towards more specific measures. For example, the reaction to the attack on the twin towers and the fight against terrorism was initially massive. Firstly, there was a declaration of war and then the measures became selective. It changed the world and led to the control of people in airports, to the installation of television cameras on the streets, to the monitoring of data on the deep web and to the control of money laundering.
- Problems derived from permanence
Sustaining the social isolation of three billion people over time is very problematic because the implications are enormous and diverse.
In the economic field, the impact shows that we are on the verge of a global recession that will affect all sectors. For vulnerable populations, the ability to withstand isolation is difficult because they have no home to isolate themselves in, no food to survive, no internet to distract themselves and communicate. Maybe they are alone or sick.
Regarding the psychological outcome, there is general insecurity because the pandemic is global and the information is intense, evidenced in what happens every day in all countries. It is a fear that is accentuated by not being able to share it socially. (Steven Taylor, “The Psychology of Pandemics”, Cambridge, 1.12. 2019).
At an international level, it is difficult to help refugees or sectors of extreme poverty due to the fact no one is allowed to travel to those places where they reside (report of the “International Crisis Group”).
These outcomes disrupt our social and economic system.
On the other hand, nobody knows how long these measures should last or if they should be repeated, because there may be outbreaks when someone infected travels to areas where the isolation has ended.
There is a general consensus regarding this first phase, which must be completed, but discussions arise regarding the “second phase” of the fight against the virus and how it should be carried out.
- The specific proposals
The analytical model for a different stage can be provided by the network theory, which describes how a news story or a virus can spread very quickly or disappear. A true or false news is irrelevant if one person tells it to another; if the latter belongs to a club, all its members wi ll know about it; if one of those club members is also a member of a community, that news will be better known and if it the community has a database, the effect will be multiplied (Niall Ferguson, “The tower and the square”). News spreads through links and nodes. Something similar happens with viruses.
The general concept is that you can act on the links and the nodes or places where the virus multiplies, gradually releasing other areas.
It is impossible to exhaustively discuss all the diverse proposals that can be observed in current literature, but it is interesting to make a brief list.
In most countries, the problem is related to the saturation of health services because the virus spreads rapidly and there’s scarcity of resources. Initially, the key is to slow down the rate of infection through isolation, so that there are not a large number of patients needing assistance at the same time. This led to a crisis in some countries, aggravated because the economic adjustment took resources away from health services (Cahn, Pedro, Clarín, 14.3.20).
As time goes by, the matter at hand oscillates towards the second phase, which is more selective and aims to control the virus within certain limits.
Increase supply means increasing the number of beds, respirators, and tests. Within this topic, we can see there are different kinds of hospitals: those dedicated to regular diseases and those dedicated to coronavirus. The protection of medical personnel, nurses and security personnel is also important because if they get sick, there will be no human resources left.
Decrease the demand implies, in the first place, having reliable information by the conduction of tests (Aaron Carroll, The Atlantic), permanent controls on the general population (Fauci-Touchette-Folkers, in National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases ), controls on hospital inpatients in order to quickly release hospital beds once it is determined that you do not need it. Alerts allow flexible measures and, therefore, if there’s a relapse, activities can be limited or not in those places where there are reported cases . We have to prepare ourselves for multiple periods of social distancing (Kissler, Stephen, Harvard School of Public Health).
Studies show that most people can get infected and then cured, thereby improving the immunity system of many groups, which will not require isolation.
In this way, the most drastic measures can be limited by compartmentalizing areas (Wong Joan, “How the pandemic Will End”, The Atlantic, March 25, 2020).
In general, the aim is to build an infrastructure that controls demand and increases the supply of medical services, reducing the risk of saturation.
This scenario allows dividing the problem, concentrating on some sectors and releasing others.
Isolation can evolve into distancing. Hence, people will be able to mobilize, but the ban on mass gatherings remains. Intensities can vary because there are regions where the virus did not develop.
In this way, economic activity begins to function as isolation is transformed into social distancing and areas free of contagion are opened, with adequate barriers.
It will help technology and remote work. Consumption can also be oriented by enabling special circuits for people at risk, so that they are not exposed unnecessarily.
The State is fundamental in sustaining universal basic income for vulnerable groups, which is increasingly necessary in today’s world (Amartya Senn; Yuval Harari).
Finally, it is a global pandemic that requires transnational scientific and political cooperation. The “deglobalization that implies the closing of borders, is also transitory in time and does not provide solutions in the medium term” (Harari; F. Times. 20/03/2020)
It is clear that it is necessary to encourage multidisciplinary and creative dialogue to design a more selective, flexible system, capable of quick reactions.
However, it is also true that these solutions must evolve into medium term solutions, in which certain balances that were resigned can be achieved.
History teaches that there were times when humanity faced great challenges. In some cases, fear was the basis of authoritarianism, which ended up aggravating the tragedies.
But there were other cases in which the people who had to decide did so through scientific and democratic rationality, protecting health, equality and freedoms which consolidated the rule of law.