The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first global health crisis of our lifetimes, and it won’t be the last. As habitat loss forces wildlife and humans to live together, pathogenic crossovers will rise. Insect-borne diseases, like Zika, will attack new populations. While physicians and public health experts have worked together to prevent disease and find therapies to protect us, lawyers have also been called on to rethink how the law can better protect our basic human rights in times of a pandemic.
For the first year of lockdown, the world was in survival mode, and organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations (UN) at first took the lead. The UN Sustainable Development Group describes human rights as key in shaping the pandemic response and has called on all nations to consider basic human rights and how to best respond to the public health emergency. It is now time for countries, states, and localities to plan for the longer-term consequences the pandemic has caused.
The costs of mass lockdowns have been enormous. Lockdowns and mask mandates were certainly instituted by the desire to slow death, but they have also challenged our movement. As borders were locked down, the service industry came to a standstill. Schools had to convert to online teaching with no notice. When vaccines were discovered and then tested, governments were then tasked with finding efficient and equitable ways to distribute them. How we move forward may perhaps be the hardest part. Now that vaccines have stemmed the tsunami of new cases, it is time to consider the broader impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods.