Coronavirus gives government a scary carte blanche
PARIS -- Greetings, fellow quarantined, from the exclusion zone previously known as France!
It would be interesting to hear governments explain why the flu has never justified the kind of freedom-killing measures that are taking hold around the world. The coronavirus has killed far fewer people than the conventional flu kills each year. The World Health Organization estimates that the flu is responsible for 290,000 to 650,000 deaths a year. As of Tuesday morning, there had been 185,067 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide and 7,330 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.
A week ago, there were 1,412 confirmed cases of coronavirus in France, and 30 people had died. As of this writing, there have been 6,633 cases in France and 148 deaths. We're still a long way from the numbers attributed to the flu, which kills far more people annually despite a vaccine being available and ubiquitous. Why have we been subjected to a daily coronavirus death count when we don't ever see one for the flu?
Governments are taking drastic measures with little logical explanation for the discrepancy between coronavirus policies and (nonexistent) flu policies. Last week in France we were enjoying movies, restaurants and public parks. Even French President Emmanuel Macron was spotted at the theater with his wife on March 6. The theater owner said Macron told him that despite coronavirus, life should continue and, with the exception of at-risk individuals, daily routines shouldn't be modified.
A few days later, home printers all across France are churning out forms labeled "Certificate for Personal Trips." Unless you want to run into trouble with French authorities, who are now locking down every square inch of the country, this paper must be presented to them at checkpoints.
Filled out with one's identifying information and signed, the personal-trip certificate entitles the bearer to leave home for one of a few select reasons. Either you're performing a professional activity that can't be done remotely, going to a grocery store (where lineups outside are mandated to ensure social distancing inside), going to the doctor or attending to an urgent family matter. You can also go out for brief individual exercise (with or without a dog), but it must be within close proximity of your home.
The negative reaction to this document in online comments suggests that many people in France still vividly recall the ambiance here during World War II.
Macron said multiple times in an address to the nation Monday night that France is now at war -- against a virus. Anyone who questions the proportionality of the coronavirus measures being taken is typically met with the same rhetoric being issued by the government.
Dissenting voices are needed in every crisis, if only to keep government powers in check. Basic freedoms are being taken away under the guise of a national emergency, despite very little consistency in the words and actions of the leaders who declared it.
For example, the day before ordering total confinement of 67 million French under military watch, Macron insisted that everyone get out to the voting booths en masse for municipal elections. Why wasn't this virus considered serious enough to cancel local elections, yet hours later people needed a permission slip from the government to let their dogs relieve themselves at the end of the block?
There is no logical answer to such inconsistencies, nor to why governments apparently feel no need to offer one. People here in France haven't been panicking or waiting for the government to save them. They're personally balancing their individual freedoms with the risk of infecting themselves or others. Knowing that "zero risk" doesn't exist, is the price of zero freedoms worth paying -- in ANY instance?
After being told to get out and vote, Parisians headed to open-air parks later in the day. Macron was reportedly upset by images of people out in the fresh air, touching each other. What's next -- the government peeking into bedrooms to ensure that you keep an appropriate social distance from your spouse?
We aren't being told what the measurable criteria will be for the return of freedoms that have been suspended. And how dare you ask when people are dying. In previous national emergencies here, such as terror attacks, people were more skeptical about relinquishing personal freedoms for the sake of the nation's collective security. In this case, you risk being treated as a delinquent or misanthrope if you're one of the few voices questioning it. And that's a scary carte blanche to give any government for any reason.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.)