• Katherine Everitt

The Political Consequences of Coronavirus

Political leaders are setting precedents, as they institute quarantines, travel restrictions, and closures in the wake of the coronavirus.

There is no doubt that a pandemic disease requires a robust response from states. But the consequences of these political actions should be measured and critiqued, lest people become accustomed to violations of their basic rights.

Emergency Culture

The key to understanding the political consequences of coronavirus, is to understand how emergency language allows for infringement on human rights.

In emergencies, we become accustomed to taking extreme or atypical measures to solve problems. Pandemics are one such scenario where emergency language allows for states to go around the "normal operating procedures" and make decisions that violate human rights, such as freedom of movement.

When politicians and political institutions initiate emergency language, they often call for extreme measures to be taken and for corners to be cut. In wartime, states might call a draft, suspend normal production rules, or institute a curfew. These are all curtailments of human rights, but are typically justified by the sense of impending danger.

In academia, this field is referred to as securitization studies.

In short, emergency language tends to be abused by politicians and states. Hence, the emergency language, hype, and panic surrounding the coronavirus should be steadily critiqued, especially in relationship to the political consequences on human rights and international relations.

The State's Creeping Power

Countries that have begun to rank up cases of coronavirus have taken approaches that range from recommend self-monitored behavioral recommendations, to full-blown authoritarian monitoring of every step and movement of the populace.

Some states have been criticized for circumventing their legislatures and putting power solely in the hands of the executive, like Hungary's PM Viktor Obran. While some may argue this is justified in the short run, there is no guarantee that Hungary's Obran will relinquish these war-time powers once the virus subsides.

While some praised Chinese containment efforts, they may overlook the impact this type of response will have down the road. When the next epidemic, or pandemic, disease emerges, citizens need to ask what type of response is appropriate.

Japan has taken limited but notable steps, including closing schools and recommending social distancing. South Korea has confined the region where the epidemic is most severe, but business continue to stay open. Sweden has been criticized for taking little if any steps to restrict the flow of coronavirus.

The UK, France, and other western states have gone into tougher lockdowns, allowing travel only for essential services.

The U.S. has taken a more piecemeal approach, allowing state governors to make decisions on restrictions within their own states, leaving for an uneven approach to coronavirus containment.

Without the ability to assemble and organize, the voice of the people is muffled. And yet, some also point to the fact that crises often precipitate gains for labor movements, but optimism may seem overblown as countless more suffer from unemployment.

Beyond what this means for economies, citizens should be asking what effect this has on the individual right to movement, as outlined by the UDHR and countless national laws. Not to mention, the inability to assemble, to enjoy public life -- these areas of life, too, are eroded by emergency culture.

Travel and Supply Restrictions: Opportunities to Confine or to Intervene

The next arena that bares consequences is the politicization of travel restrictions.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Qatar had been politically isolated by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and many more neighbors. Restrictions on shipments and air travel meant Qatar went into a state of economic crisis. With pandemic emergency culture, further restrictions on Qatar can be erroneously justified.

Countries like Iran and Venezuela, sanctioned by the U.S. and much of the world, suffer more acutely as they are cut off from global supply chains. The poor, sadly, suffer far worse from isolationist measures than the wealthy. Hence, the effect of sanctions ought to be reexamined in general, and especially during times of pandemic.

Once coronavirus spreads to the Global South, it will be telling how Western nations respond. One could hope that a collaborative and humanitarian response will be at the forefront of every world leader's mind. But cutting past the feel-good rhetoric will be important for critiquing the efficaciousness and long-term institutional impacts any foreign intervention will have.

Again, the point is that how we treat the coronavirus now will reap political consequences down the road, as future generations say, "that's just the way we've always done it."

Setting Precedents

The public conversation ought to turn toward debate. Which measures are reasonable? To what extent should we violate the individual's freedoms to contain a pandemic disease? How do we ensure the individual's rights are restored in a post-corona world?

Without discourse and debate on the topic, we will inadvertently set precedents for future generations.

The economic disaster of the coronavirus has not yet come clearly into focus. The next space to critique will be the relief packages and steps countries take to revitalize their economies and surging numbers of unemployed individuals.

While social distancing, limited travel, and closures of countless businesses all appear to be necessary to combat the spread of coronavirus, citizens must decide what that longview of the coronavirus looks like for political systems.