Should the Government Enforce Lockdown Restrictions?

Siobhán Ryan

4th Year
Temple Carrig, Greystones

A lockdown has proven to be an effective way to stop the spread of Covid-19, but what is the most ethical way to go about it? Should the people shoulder the responsibility to stop the spread of the virus by complying with lockdown rules, and should the government trust them to do this? Or is it the government’s duty to ensure that the virus is contained by enforcing restrictions?

My first thought is that the people should be given the responsibility to comply with lockdown restrictions. A lockdown takes away what many people would say are their rights. It isolates people, limits their freedom and disrupts their lives. If people are going to have to live under these kinds of conditions, they should feel like they’re choosing to for their own good.

People know that Covid-19 can be deadly, and they personally know people who are especially vulnerable. Surely people would choose to take precautions and follow the lockdown measures set up on experts’ advice?

But people make poor descisions all the time. After a week or two of being separated from their friends people might just ignore their reason and conscience and act on the feeling of longing to see the people they love.

Maybe part of the government’s duty is to punish the poor descisions people make by acting on their emotions. People murder others, often because of a feeling of anger. Being angry doesn’t make murder right or excuse it. In some cases, the threat of lifelong imprisonment could be what stops people killing eachother when their conscience is clouded by rage.

Should people be imprisoned for defying lockdown restrictions? It may not be ethical to place more people in prison during a pandemic, as it would in only increase the risk of the virus spreading uncontrollably through overcrowded prisons.

Fining people could be a better option. Many people are unemployed as a result of the lockdown and it looks like the Covid-19 crisis will badly effect the economy, so the threat of being fined would almost certainly be effective. But maybe it’s wrong to take advantage of people’s fears over money especially when they have to worry about a virus as well. Suppose with everything else on your mind you simply forgot about social distancing?

But that’s why we have the courts. And wouldn’t the fear of being fined help people remember the rules? After all, the restrictions are only there to prevent the hospitals being overrun and an excessive amount of deaths. The fear of being fined could stop people dying.

 Most people don’t think of breaking lockdown rules as a crime, and punishing it like a crime might just evoke defiance of the government and the lockdown. People generally agree that crimes are morally wrong, and want the government to punish the people who commit them. But a pandemic is one of few scenarios where meeting up with friends or going to a party could be considered wrong.

Maybe the fear of being fined is needed to pressure people to comply with restrictions. However people need to think of fines as a precaution to ensure the virus doesn’t get out of control, instead of a punishment for meeting up with friends. Maybe the fines need to go diretly towards combatting the virus for people to think of them positivly. For example they could be used to buy protective clothing for frontline workers.

I think that the government should trust the people to comply with lockdown restrictions but the reality is that you can’t trust every one of millions to suddenly give up normal life. I think in the case of Covid-19, the government should prioritise people’s lives over their personal freedom and enforce lockdown restrictions. But if there are to be consequences for breaking the rules, people shouldn’t feel that the government is trying to punish them and take even more away from them. If people are going to be fined they should see the money being used to combat the virus so that they can have their lives back.