Freedom of Movement during COVID-19.

September 1, 2020By Myrna El Fakhry Tuttle

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 - an infectious disease caused by a new coronavirus - a global pandemic. With no vaccines or treatments to control the disease, the WHO asked governments "to take urgent and aggressive action to stop the spread of the virus".

In order to address the COVID-19 outbreak, governments around the world took strict measures and curtailed their citizen's freedom of movement. Borders of countries, states, provinces, counties and cities all over the world closed. Lock-downs and quarantines obstructed non-essential movement outside of the home. People were required to stay home, to abstain from going to work or school. Restaurants, stores, offices, museums, playgrounds, gyms, etc. also closed. In addition, public gatherings like religious services, concerts, social and sporting events were cancelled. Government and health officials also asked people to keep a safe distance from each other whenever they did go out.

When can freedom of movement be restricted?

In 1959, Hannah Arendt said:

Of all the specific liberties which may come into our minds when we hear the word freedom', freedom of movement is historically the oldest and also the most elementary. Being able to depart for where we will is the prototypal gesture of being free, as limitation of freedom of movement has from time immemorial been the precondition for enslavement.

Freedom of movement is a human right protected by domestic laws and international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 13) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (article 12). Both documents guarantee the right of everyone to leave any country including their own country and to return to it. They also protect the right of everyone lawfully in a country to move freely within the territory of that country.

Concurrently, article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health of himself and of his family. Also, article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR) recognizes the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, and asks governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical service to those who need it.

Human rights are interdependent. Therefore, the right to...

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