Although some of the common challenges identified across our global survey of legal responses to COVID-19 have their roots in long-established realities, the economic and social inflection point created by COVID-19 provides an opportunity, as well as an imperative, to consider how these responses will shape social norms and structure democratic institutions in the post-pandemic world.
By Csaba Győry
Hungary was one of the first countries in Europe to introduce restrictions in order to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections.
Policy wise, the restrictions overall were similar to those of other European countries. The legal basis for these restrictions, however, has proven very controversial because of the extremely broad sway it provides the executive, and has received a great deal of attention from EU institutions, scholars, and the press.
This is the conundrum of the Hungarian response to COVID-19: an almost unlimited authorization for the executive to rule by decree, which, at the same time, was used relatively sparingly and in a broadly similar manner as in other EU countries.
By Woosung Hwang
South Korea has been hailed for its swift and thorough response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the response has come at a cost, affecting the privacy and rights of the country’s citizens.
South Korea had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on January 20th, 2020. As of June 8th, 2020, South Korea has 11,814 cases, and 273 fatalities.
To limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Nigerian government took restrictive containment measures, with the effect of curtailing fundamental rights. These included lockdowns of various states and a cessation of social and economic activity, except those activities relating to essential services. While these measures followed existing public health advisories, they have raised significant legal, constitutional, human rights, and legitimacy issues.
Between enabling and suffocating legal measures
Tensions between welfarisms that enable and those that suffocate are evident in Ireland’s move to restrict the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the reaction to it.
Two pieces of emergency legislation passed through Oireachtas Eireann (the Irish Parliament) by March 26th. The Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 and the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2020 address a range of social, civil and economic issues. Read More
By Eduardo Dargent and Camila Gianella
Peru was among the first Latin American countries to implement legal measures that restrict civil rights in order to stem the spread of COVID-19.
On March 15, with 28 confirmed cases and no deaths, the government issued the Supreme Decree N° 044-2020-PCM declaring a state of emergency for 15 days. Measures in the decree included closing the borders, ordering a general lockdown, forbidding domestic travel, and closing schools, universities, churches, and all non-essential businesses, among others.
By Mark Heywood
South Africa’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 5th, 2020. Ten days later, on March 15th, 2020, the government utilized the Disaster Management Act (2002) to declare a State of National Disaster. Under this Act, the government set up a National Command Council (NCC) made up of Cabinet Ministers and restricted certain rights necessary to prevent SARS-Cov-2 transmission and “flatten the curve.”
A national lockdown started on March 27th. It was relaxed slightly (to level 4) on May 1st, and was further relaxed (to level 3) on June 1st. The lockdown severely restricted freedom of movement, closed all but essential companies and schools, banned the sale of alcohol and tobacco, and introduced a night-time curfew between 8pm and 5am. By May 22nd, the Minister of Police reported that 230,000 people had been arrested for violating lock-down regulations.
The most affected constitutionally recognized rights are freedom of movement, assembly, and trade. However, on paper at least, care has been taken to ensure that political rights and rights to freedom of expression and association are not limited, and the President has couched the country’s response in terms of the Constitution, particularly the rights to life, dignity and access to health care services. He has also frequently referred to the right to equality and promised that in the post COVID-19 period South Africa will do much more to tackle the inequalities that have been exposed by the coronavirus.
By Alicia Ely Yamin
1. The crisis exposes dramatically different impacts on the distinct interests protected as “privacy” rights.
Life in democratic societies is enhanced when the law protects what information and aspects of intimate personal life an individual shares with others.
But the pandemic has accelerated the use of a variety of surveillance technologies, which are now being introduced and/or rapidly expanded to trace the virus, and in turn individuals’ movements and lives. One South Korean legal expert interviewed for this symposium put it bluntly: “It looks like we’re living at the end of privacy.”
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.