Pandemic: the way out of isolation and its challenges

The global pandemic (Covid-19) is generating deep interdisciplinary debates, in which Law participates.

The main current controversy is related to the fact that there are approximately three billion isolated human beings, and a worldwide stoppage of economic and social activity.

We will briefly expose the central questions that provide a framework for analysis and paths to follow.

1. The massive defense against the pandemic

The decision to isolate people is mostly applied in all countries, because even those who initially opposed, ended up adopting these measures.

The analytical model is that of “conjectural action”, because there is insufficient information, it is decided based on probabilities, and in favor of life because it is considered a higher value. The problem that is usually presented is “asymmetric information”, because much is known about the cost of supporting the measure, but nothing about the cost that is avoided. That is why it is relevant to explain what would happen if nothing were done, in order to sustain the trust of citizens. In law, the “precautionary principle” is regulated, which establishes that in the face of serious danger, the lack of certainty should not be used as a reason to postpone the adoption of effective measures.

This justification changes as more information is obtained and uncertainty decreases. Because, in tragedy prevention the initial action is massive and then evolves towards more specific measures. For example, the reaction to the attack on the twin towers and the fight against terrorism was initially massive, through a declaration of war, and then selective. It changed the world and began to monitor people at airports, to install television cameras on the streets, to monitor the circulation of data on the deep web, and to control money laundering.

2. Problems derived from permanence

Sustaining the social isolation of three billion people over time is very problematic, because the implications are enormous and diverse.

In the economyThe impact shows that we are on the verge of a global recession that will affect all sectors. In the most vulnerable, the ability to withstand isolation is made difficult because they have no home to isolate themselves, no food to survive, no internet to distract themselves and communicate, or they are alone, or sick.

At psychological plane There is a general insecurity, because the pandemic is global and the information is intense (we see what happens every day in all countries), and it is a fear that is accentuated by not being able to share it socially. (Steven Taylor, “The Psychology of Pandemics”, Cambridge, 1.12. 2019).

At at international level, it makes it difficult to help refugees or sectors of extreme poverty by not being able to travel to the places where they are (report of the “International Crisis Group”).

It is an impact that breaks up a global economic and social functioning system.

On the other hand, it is not well known how long the measurement should last, or if it should be repeated, because there may be outbreaks when someone infected travels to areas where the isolation ended.

There is consensus that this first phase must be completed, but it begins to discuss what a “second phase” of fighting the virus would be like.

3. The specific proposals

The analytical model for a different stage can be provided by network theory that describes how a news story or a virus can spread very quickly or disappear. A true or false news is irrelevant if one person tells it to another; if the latter belongs to a club, all its members will know it; if one of those club members is a member of a community, that news will be better known, and if it has a database the effect will be multiplied (Niall Ferguson, “The tower and the square”). The news spreads through links and nodes and something similar happens with viruses.

The general concept is that you can act on the links and the nodes or places where the virus multiplies, gradually releasing the rest.

It is impossible to exhaustively develop the diversity of proposals that can be observed in the current literature, but it is interesting to make a brief list.

In most countries, the problem is related to the saturation of health services because the virus spreads rapidly and makes many people who need it not have it because it is scarce. Initially, the key is to slow down the rate of infection through isolation, so that there are not a large number of patients at the same time. This was the crisis in some countries, aggravated because the economic adjustment took resources away from the health service (Cahn, Pedro, Clarion, 14.3.20)

As time goes by, the question oscillates towards measures characteristic of a second phase that is more selective, and aims to control the virus within certain limits.

Increase supply, which means increasing the number of beds, respirators, and tests. This topic differentiates the types of hospitals according to normal and special diseases dedicated to coronavirus. The protection of medical personnel, nurses and security personnel is also important, because if they get sick, there are no human resources.

Decrease the demand that implies, in the first place, having reliable information by conducting tests (Aaron Carroll, The Atlantic), and permanent controls on the general population (Fauci-Touchette-Folkers, in National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases ), and on boarding schools to quickly release hospital beds once it is determined that you do not need it. Alerts allow flexible measures, and therefore, if a regrowth appears, activities are opened or closed only in those places where it appears and not massively. You have to prepare for multiple periods of social distance (Kissler, Stephen, Harvard School of Public Health).

Studies show that most people can become infected and cured, thereby improving the immunity of many groups, which will not require isolation.

In this way, the most drastic measures can be limited in a sectoral way (Wong Joan, “How the pandemic Will End”, The Atlantic, March 25, 2020).

In general, the aim is to build an infrastructure that controls demand and increases the supply of medical services, reducing the risk of saturation.

This scenario allows dividing the problem, concentrating on some sectors and releasing others.

Isolation can be turned into estrangement, so people can mobilize, but the ban on mass gatherings remains.. Intensities can vary because there are regions where the virus did not develop.

In this way, economic activity begins to function as isolation is transformed into social distance and areas free of contagion are opened, with adequate barriers.

It will help technology and remote work. Consumption can also be oriented by enabling special circuits for people at risk so that they are not exposed unnecessarily.

The national State is fundamental in the maintenance of universal basic income for vulnerable groups, increasingly necessary in today’s world (Amartya Senn; Yuval Harari).

Finally, it is a global pandemic that requires transnational scientific and political cooperation. The “deglobalization that implies the closing of borders, is also transitory in time and does not provide solutions in the medium term (Harari; F. Times. 20/03/2020)

It is clear then that It is necessary to encourage multidisciplinary and creative dialogue to design a more selective, flexible system, capable of quick reactions.

But it is also true that these solutions must be directed towards the medium term in which certain balances can be achieved that are sacrificed in the emergency.

History teaches that there were times when humanity faced great challenges. In some cases the fear that was the basis of authoritarianism was sown, which ended up aggravating the tragedies.

But there were other cases in which the people who had to decide, did so through scientific and democratic rationality, protecting health, equality and freedoms, which consolidated the rule of law.