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After a long period of decline in frequency and impact, widespread pandemics have, in recent years, started to become more commonplace. Global pandemics pose a threat which is an increasingly relevant topic of political discourse, particularly in light of the crisis surrounding the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Scope of government intervention

Various policies implemented by governments during pandemics include the prohibition of large gatherings, social distancing measures, restrictions on travel, and even full lockdowns. Measures such as these can vary greatly in terms of how effective they are in the effort to stop or slow down the spread of a virus. This depends on a number of factors, although the most crucial would appear to be the timing of implementation and the level of preparation, with early testing being vitally important in any containment effort. Other important aspects in determining the likelihood of a successful response include the amount of information available to the public, as well as the willingness of individuals to act responsibly and take guidelines into account.

In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these requirements for a chance at an effective early response were not met, with the unavailability of tests in many countries being particularly problematic. To compound this, at a time of emergency when any available help should be welcome, government regulations have in many cases prevented the private sector from contributing to the development of tests, preferring instead to ensure the monopoly of government agencies.

Impact on personal and economic freedom

Occurrences that pose a major public health risk must certainly be seen as times of emergency. However, it is important that the legitimate fears surrounding health crises are not abused as opportunities for governments to expand their powers at the expense of individuals. This is especially important when considering the extraordinary value contributed by individual and economic liberties to the global ability to respond to such crises.

It is also worth considering the human cost of any economic collapse brought about through extended periods of lockdown, where economic activity in many sectors is brought to a complete halt. Governments must be careful in implementing measures that would have devastating long-term consequences, and need to ensure that any efforts made to combat a pandemic also take into account people’s livelihoods. Given the health implications of an economic downturn, decisions surrounding any legislation which impacts the functioning of the economy must not be taken lightly.

Why appropriate government response to pandemics matters to SFL

At Students For Liberty, we believe that protecting the rights of individuals and their futures should form an important part of the response to a crisis. Individuals must also ensure they behave responsibly, in a way that does not endanger others, and therefore some time-limited measures of harm prevention can be appropriate during extraordinary times. However, a crisis must never be used as a means for governments to expand their power and turn in the direction of authoritarianism, as is sadly often the case. We believe that, ultimately, a pandemic also warrants a reevaluation of burdensome regulations which, during times of crisis, only exacerbate the problem.

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