The COVID-19 pandemic has spread panic around the world, killing hundreds of thousands of people so far. A deadly virus that is easily transmitted, has created a huge humanitarian crisis with unpredictable consequences. The national health systems of all countries are collapsing along with the stock markets. People live in quarantine at home with anxiety for tomorrow, fearing the virus but hoping of finding a medicine or a vaccine. Empty streets everywhere, isolation and going out with a permit! We are living in unprecedented moments similar to a world war.
COVID-19 is now an asymmetric threat to the whole world as even the most organized national health systems cannot cope with the pandemic. At first, the necessary attention was not given to the virus and perhaps, we thought medicine is so advanced that it can face any challenge promptly. Unfortunately, many countries have been delayed in getting measures, resulting in the rapid spread of the deadly virus.
There are two main methods of dealing with epidemics: a) general immunity and b) isolation (lockdown). Britain tried the first method with no success and rushed to the second method in the end. Greece on the other hand followed the second method with success till now (100 deaths). Of course, isolation may not create enough immunity so that when people go out will possibly be more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world economy will enter a new cycle of recession similar to 1929 and not 2008. Economic activity has been frozen all over the planet. As the pandemic goes on, the economy will be collapsing. Most industries will go bankrupt and jobs will be lost. Tourism will be essentially affected around the globe this summer and income will deteriorate.
The pandemic also affects human right protection, as basic constitutional freedoms are being violate in many countries. In Hungary, for example, emergency powers were given to Prime Minister Victor Orban in order to legislate by decrees for an unspecified period of time.
Of course, measures against coronavirus are necessary for the protection of the fundamental right of health and life protection, but such measures should be necessary, proportionate and time-limited. The war against the coronavirus must, in no way, become an alibi for violating basic human rights and the fundamental freedoms. Also, proposals for possible electronic monitoring of citizens to protect them against coronavirus need to be dealt with great caution because they violate personal data currently protected by GDPR legislation.
During the coronavirus crisis, freedom of expression and free press are essential for controlling abuse of governmental powers and for revealing the truth about the pandemic. As fake news circulate everywhere, we need free and independent media to get accurate information for our health.
Overall, the pandemic requires individual and social responsibility to abide by the instructions of doctors. We stay home so as not to transmit the disease to other people. We must also be careful not to lose our basic freedoms and democratic rights by granting extreme powers to independent authorities to process our personal data. We must stand together at this critical time for humanity.
∗ Dr. Panagiotis Sfaelos BA, LLB, LLM, PhD is Lawyer, Political Scientist and Journalist, Secretary General by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), Member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the International Federation o Journalists. He is also a Professor in EU Law