The Covid Madness

The only remedy out of this madness is the adoption of stringent rulemaking processes and the accessibility of applicable rules to the public.

by Ruwantissa Abeyratne
Writing from Montreal

I have found the safety... from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Madman

The Covid-19 spread has inflicted devastation and death across the world. It has also introduced a pervasive equivocality due to the ambivalence of the messages percolating from leadership across the world. While a handful of countries invoked a total lockdown with a curfew, where the populace would understand what it meant – that one cannot leave one’s aboard – others dithered. For example, in early May of this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, addressing the people of the United Kingdom in a robust speech intended to inspire, said at the conclusion, “we must stay alert, control the virus and save lives”. Very few knew what this exactly meant. How could our alertness save lives? If the honorable Prime Minister was referring to a suspicious bag left in a train station that might contain an explosive device, this statement would have been comprehensible. But a hidden virus? Were the people asked to wear masks at all times? If so, that would have been a clear message. 

The BBC on BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday the 12th of July reported Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office since 2020 as saying “face masks should not be mandatory in shops in England, adding he 'trusts people's good sense'.

Would people’s good sense stop the virus from spreading? How would good sense be defined anyway?

The BBC also said that Prime Minister Johnson had hinted on Friday that there could be stricter measures on face masks in England. These two statements are seemingly contradictory and are confusing at best.

The United Kingdom is not alone. The World Health Organization has, at least on one occasion, confused the public. In early June, Poynter reported: “Epidemiologists are scrambling to tamp down comments from the World Health Organization that suggested people who are COVID-19 positive but do not show symptoms may not be much of a threat to pass the virus along to others. That flies in the face of months of warnings. But the WHO said the data it is using now is linked to contact tracing, so researchers are zooming in more precisely how infections spread.

Your readers, listeners and viewers are going to be confused by this new WHO claim. Just look at what they will find on a Google search — two stories back-to-back. One says people who show no symptoms may be responsible for 40 to 45% of COVID-19 cases. Another says people without symptoms “very rarely” spread the virus to others. These are completely opposite claims just days apart”.

Across the Atlantic, in the United States confusion was worse confounded. The Centre for Infectious Disease Research Policy (CIDRAP) cited in late April the stand taken by President Trump: “Direct sunlight, injected disinfectants, heat. Those were some of the remedies for coronavirus infection President Donald Trump mentioned during yesterday's White House task force briefing. Today the manufacturers of Lysol and Dettol cleaners, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), issued statements and warnings contradicting Trump's remarks”.

Needless to say, the public are confused with the discombobulated messages coming from all quarters. There are two problems here. The first of course is confusion caused by maundering of those who are, or ought to be in charge of leading the fight against the pandemic spread. These are primarily the law makers. The second is the lack of clear directives. Are we or are we not required to wear face coverings? And where are we required to wear them? When?

We are fined if we do not wear our seatbelts while driving o riding in a car. Why then, should we not face penalties if we do not take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others from our spreading a virus?

The only remedy out of this madness is the adoption of stringent rulemaking processes and the accessibility of applicable rules to the public.

The most fundamental principle in rulemaking is that the genesis of the rule should be authoritative. Rules are not legislation. They are the results of deliberations of the people in their constituent assemblies that have passed a vote. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it aptly, rules are the skin of a living policy that crystallizes an inchoate normative policy into hard words that are clear and intelligible to the ordinary person. Of course, the living policy has its genesis either in ratified treaties or enacted local laws, or even decisions of the legal hierarchy of a land. Rulemaking is intrinsically linked with the perceived inadequacy of law, the sources of which should be the genesis of rulemaking by a State. While on the one hand the entrenched principle of sovereignty of States enable a State to make its own rules and laws, on the other hand, the Sate may be circumscribed by the ambivalence of its own feckless insouciance in its social contract to ensure the safety and protection of its people.

There should be clear laws and regulations against the spread of the virus and such laws should have legal legitimacy of the social contract theory. This is not an issue of personal liberty and libertarianism. Nations exist as communities before nationalisms and Nation States. To analyze nations and the national question in terms of "nationalisms" is philosophical idealism, looking at the mental reflection rather than the thing it reflects. Nations evolve historically as stable, long-lasting communities of people, sharing a common language and territory, and the common culture and history that arise from that. On this basis develop the solidarities, mutual interests and mutual identification that distinguish a people from its neighbors. Although the national sovereignty of a democratic State is analogous to the freedom and autonomy of the individual, it is subservient to the overall safety of all the people. It means that one's domestic laws and foreign relations are exclusively decided by one's own parliament and government, which are elected by and responsible to one's own people.

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