Madison, Wisconsin / USA - April 24, 2020: Demonstrators hold flags and signs at an anti lockdown rally on the steps of the Wisconsin State capitol. State Street is in the background.

Rights, Democracy, and the Law in the United States During COVID-19

Our latest digital symposium, Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law, presents a snapshot of the spectrum of rights-related measures adopted in response to the pandemic in dozens of countries to date.

Given the international focus of the symposium, we opted not to solicit a submission representing the situation in the United States. However, the Bill of Health blog has published numerous relevant posts on different dimensions of legal and policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

The selections below, which we will continually update, offer an array of perspectives on how the U.S. response to the pandemic has affected rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

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Mexico City, Mexico.

Human Rights at Risk During the Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Mexico

By Sofía Charvel

Mexico is a country of contrasts; both in the richness of our culture as in the advances and shortcomings that have arisen in our path towards the effective protection of human rights. In the face of the health crisis due to COVID-19, violations to rights and liberties are a latent risk.

The Mexican Health System is too fragile to face COVID-19 due to the corruption and lack of investment of former administrations, and due to poorly-implemented reforms made by the current administration. Read More

Oslo, Norway.

Norway and the COVID-19 Lockdown

By Malcolm Langford and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

On its face, Norway is a COVID-19 success story.

Facing rapidly increasing infection, the government introduced on March 12th, 2020 a wide-ranging lockdown. The sovereign wealth fund was tapped to bolster public spending and ensure that welfare for most citizens remain relatively unchanged. By April, the outbreak was brought under control; and, as of May 7th, domestic lockdown restrictions were partially eased.

This success is partly due to widespread trust in government and national public health authorities, and the mobilization of the deeply ingrained cultural concept of “dugnad,” voluntary and collective work. However, the government’s interventionist response raises many questions with respect to the rule of law and human rights, which we explore in this blog.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part I)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

Introduction

This post is part I of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In this first installment we assess the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outline the infection risks for residents and workers. In the second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Hands close-up of surgeons holding medical instruments.

COVID-19 and Organ Transplantation

By James W. Lytle

After a banner year for organ transplantation in the United States in 2019, the success became a tattered memory by April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit major cities in the U.S. with its full fury.

A record number of 39,178 organs were donated in 2019, including 7,397 organs from living donors, also an all-time high.  After several years of adverse media and regulatory scrutiny, LiveOn NY, the organ procurement organization (OPO) that serves the Metropolitan New York City region, proudly reported that a total of 938 organs had been transplanted in 2019, another record that represented more than a fifty percent increase over the transplant total in 2015.

By late April 2020, however, organ transplantation activity in New York State had reportedly declined by ninety percent.

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Masked statue of Meir Dizengoff, the first Mayor of Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of Aeyal Gross.

Rights Restrictions and Securitization of Health in Israel During COVID-19

By Aeyal Gross

Facing the novel Coronavirus, Israel adopted a series of legal measures that have restricted various human rights both directly and indirectly.

The earliest restrictions — requirements established in February for people returning from abroad to isolate — were, in March, gradually broadened to restrict freedom of movement within Israel, ranging from a general lockdown, which at its peak restricted any outing to walking or exercising only within 100 meters of one’s home, except for specific purposes, to cordon sanitaire for areas with bigger outbreaks, which prohibited movement into and out of those regions.

The various restrictions created severe limitations not only on the right to freedom of movement itself, but also on family life, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.

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Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada.

The Canadian Response to COVID-19

By Vanessa Gruben

Like many other countries, different levels of government in Canada have adopted a wide range of measures in response to COVID-19. Many of the measures vary from province to province and municipality to municipality.

Canada is a federation composed of a federal government, three territorial governments (which operate with delegated federal authority), ten provincial governments, and thousands of municipal governments (which exercise powers delegated by the provinces).

Each level of government has distinct responsibilities under the Constitution Act, and each has used a variety of legal instruments including laws, regulations, executive orders, directives and by-laws, during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect public health. This brief overview offers a few examples of the legal instruments that have impacted individual civil liberties.

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Paris, France.

COVID-19 in France: Health as a Constitutional Value and Limitations on Civil Liberties

By Stéphanie Dagron

This piece was written on May 13, 2020 amid a rapidly evolving situation. The post reflects the state of knowledge at the time of writing.

In France, a state of sanitary emergency was declared for a period of two months starting on March 23rd, 2020 in order to allow the authorities “to deal with the major health threat” created by SARS-Cov-2.

In many ways, this regime resembles the State of Emergency regime which currently exists in French law (Emergency Powers Law of April 3rd, 1955).  However, it seems the public authorities wished to instate, at least symbolically, a different regime from the ones imposed in times of terrorism or armed conflict.

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COVID infodemic concept illustration.

Why Government Information Isn’t Curing the ‘Infodemic’

By Nancy Fairbank

Coronavirus misinformation is beating truth to the punch – hitting the public more quickly and directly. This “infodemic” anchors readers to its core messages and makes dislodging its falsehoods all the more difficult.

The consequences of misinformation are also heightened in a pandemic context, when accurate information is critical to ensuring cooperation with public health measures and acting on falsehoods can rapidly endanger countless lives. Governments trying to compete are faced with two (non-exclusive) options: (1) attempting to get out accurate information first and (2) employing strategies to evict misinformation that’s already filled the gaps before they could.

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Copenhagen, Denmark.

How Denmark’s Epidemic Act Was Amended to Respond to COVID-19

By Janne Rothmar Herrmann

On March 12, 2020 the Danish Prime Minister informed the nation in a televised statement that she was effectively shutting down the country in response to COVID-19. She urged parents to keep their children home the next day, but gave schools, daycare centers, kindergartens, and all public employees two working days to shut down.

That same day Parliament passed an Act that made major changes in the Epidemic Act, which Denmark has had in force since 1915. The current Epidemic Act dates from 1979 and has been amended with minor revisions several times since then.

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