Extreme social distancing: ‘shoot any coronavirus troublemakers’


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks to the nation about coronavirus on April 16 /  AP

Authoritarian regimes are taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to reinforce their authority, claims bioethicist Charles E. Binkley in a post on the blog of the American Journal of Bioethics.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has told police and military that during the pandemic, “if there is trouble, … shoot them dead." About half of the 110 million people in the Philippines are currently under quarantine, many of them in great poverty. "Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave," he added.

Some of the abuses reported are disturbing. According to Human Rights Watch,

“In Cavite province, two children were locked in a coffin on March 26 as punishment for violating curfew. On March 20, officials in Santa Cruz town, Laguna province, locked five young people inside a dog cage. In Binondo, Manila, village officials arrested four boys and four girls on March 19 for violating curfew. They forcibly cut the hair of seven of the children while the one who resisted was stripped naked and ordered to walk home.”

China’s authoritarian government at first used its power to lie about the epidemic and then to lock down Wuhan and other cities.

But China and the Philippines are not the only countries, writes Dr Binkley:

In democratic Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used the pandemic as an opportunity to effectively silence government criticism and rule by decree, bypassing the parliament and existing laws. In Turkmenistan, leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov reportedly banned the word “coronavirus” and threatened to arrest those who utter it. 

Even in the United States, the response of authorities has often been denial:

In almost every interview with doctors and nurses working on the front lines and lacking the equipment necessary to adequately care for patients and protect themselves and the community from contagion, the interviewee has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by their hospitals or medical groups.

Physicians have been fired for publicly raising concerns about the adequacy of protective equipment and COVID-19 testing at their hospitals. Other clinicians, some with underlying medical conditions that place them at higher risk for serious outcomes if infected with COVID-19, have been reprimanded and threatened with termination for wearing masks in public, based on concern for the hospital’s image. 

Transparency is essential for winning a public health emergency:

Veracity, or truth telling, is an essential ethical principle, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the basis of public trust and ultimately saves lives. During a pandemic, suppressing and punishing physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers for speaking the truth about inadequate training and lack of necessary medical equipment erodes public trust and leads to unnecessary suffering and death. 

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge




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