Because the COVID-19 pandemic took maintain in South Africa two weeks in the past, the primary glimpse emerged of the lengths to which individuals would go to keep away from isolation. The nation additionally noticed what mechanisms legislation enforcement had at their disposal to impose such measures.
The case that acquired the best protection concerned a mom and daughter who had examined constructive for COVID-19 fleeing a well being facility with a 3rd member of the family. The Division of Well being utilized for an pressing courtroom order to trace the household down and compel them into isolation. This was granted. The household was subsequently positioned and remoted.
Very quickly afterwards the federal government sought to make clear the authorized place across the occasion. It gazetted a brand new regulation for COVID-19 that makes it a felony offence to refuse testing, remedy or isolation. If a person does refuse isolation, they could be held involuntarily for 48 hours.
Throughout this time an pressing warrant should be obtained to increase the isolation interval. Any one who contravenes these laws is topic to fines or imprisonment.
This case is polarising and peppered with prickly moral points. Many could also be scandalised by the smug and irresponsible actions of the household. The opposing rivalry is that the household was hindered in exercising its autonomy.
In any nationwide well being catastrophe calling people to voluntarily limit their actions and interactions, the tenuous no man’s land between public curiosity and private autonomy is certain to turn out to be a messy quagmire. On one hand, there’s the evasive motion of those that really feel their autonomy is being restricted. However are folks in search of a bigger public good. On this case it’s the hunt to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic by decreasing an infection charges.
Public versus private pursuits
Autonomy is an individual’s proper to self-determination. So, it’s my proper to do what I wish to, after I wish to and within the method I wish to – supplied the continued train of my autonomy doesn’t infringe on the autonomy of one other. Each ethically and legally, that is the place autonomy meets its restrict.
Via evading isolation, the household could have jeopardised the autonomy of many who’re prone to COVID-19 and are taking measures to keep away from it, like social distancing. That’s certainly sufficient to make folks really feel indignant.
There may be a substantial amount of historic precedent in ethics literature for curbing private autonomy within the pursuits of the broader public. Some examples are so apparent we take them without any consideration as a result of they’re inherently “improper”. They embrace homicide, theft and kidnapping.
Different examples are extra delicate and embrace the proper to freedom of speech, which is proscribed on the level the place it offends the privateness or dignity of another person.
Trendy well being coverage leans demonstrably in direction of public well being pursuits over these of people. Therefore, now we have notifiable illnesses like tuberculosis the place disclosure is obligatory.
Within the case of HIV the Well being Professions Council’s pointers permit healthcare staff to reveal the standing of an HIV-infected particular person to their sexual companion after enough counselling – even when the person disagrees. Disclosure right here is justified as a result of it’s seen to be within the pursuits of the broader public.
The bent in direction of public well being priorities can be clear in major care practices like vaccination and fluoridating water.
Within the case of COVID-19 it might argued that the demand on healthcare methods might be better in creating nations than northern hemisphere nations. This implies that the choice to impose lockdowns is all of the extra crucial.
The worldwide south has weak well being methods. It additionally has large teams of people with illnesses like HIV and TB. And tens of millions of individuals stay in very shut proximity, in casual housing that facilitates the fast unfold of illness.
Due to this (and since in a novel pandemic like COVID-19 the place there’s little or no knowledge – and therefore proof – on which to base well being suggestions) the choice to impose a lockdown is smart. Beneath these circumstances, it’s all the time advisable to proceed with utmost warning and within the pursuits of public well being.
However a lockdown pits private selection towards collective good. Given the circumstances it seems affordable to count on folks to conform to limiting their freedoms.
Imposing lockdown and adapting to it
Can authorities belief residents to take measures like social distancing of their very own accord?
The reply appears to be no and, in these circumstances, it has been essential to cleave a authorized framework compelling folks to behave in a morally accountable method.
To make sure that ideas like justice and equality throughout South African society don’t succumb to COVID-19, it is going to be essential to clamp down on those that flaunt the legislation whereas the remainder of the nation abides by it.
However such enforcement should be elastic sufficient to reply to the South African context, and demonstrably deal with the sensible and social challenges that many face.