Thinking ethically, in the context of Covid-19, what are the most important ethical issues of our time?
Abbey Christian Brother Grammar School, Newry
Covid-19 has affected people in different ways, of course the most obvious effect is that people are sick and dying from the virus. The greatest single change has seen the biggest effect on people’s lives, lockdown. Because we are all required to stay indoors for long periods of time, people are using their phones, laptops, computers and tablets more than they used to, to not only communicate and order food, but also to be educated, socialise with friends and family in a way that has not been done before. Lockdown has affected me personally in how I live day to day. I only go out of my house for one hour a day to exercise, my school work is all online and through email, I haven’t been in a car since the lockdown and I can’t meet up with my friends. Visiting my family in Donegal or my brother in England is impossible. I feel anxious for my friend’s mental health, in this new situation and because of that, I find myself wanting to call them more often to check how they’re doing.
A government’s ethical response to Covid-19 is to keep the people safe by passing regulations and laws that everyone has to abide by, supply the appropriate quantity and standard of equipment for the health services (NHS, care workers and keyworkers) and safeguard the country by enforcing strict entry at airports and ferry terminals from other infected regions of the world. Another issue is making sure that the people who can’t work because their work has closed is compensated through a government scheme that will help them. As part of widespread closures, which include schools, the government’s ethical response needs to ensure all students can still get a proper education and those from poor backgrounds, who are most vulnerable, still receive their free meals.
At the Abbey, two teachers are addressing the lack of PPE for the NHS. The two teachers are Mr Savage and Mr Higgins of the technology department, who are making clear, protective visors for front line workers in the medical or care vocations. The school believed it was their ethical responsibility to use their resources to help the community. Lack of planning to acquire all the necessary resources puts, not only the public, but also the health care professionals, who have the job of taking care of Covid-19 patients, at risk. Being up front with the public regarding plans for provision of such resources is paramount in keeping the people’s trust.
The ethical issue of what is the right balance between public health and safety and people’s right to go about their daily lives unhindered, also leads to reflect on the different and conflicting views on the issue.
It is all our ethical responsibility to do what is necessary for the public’s safety, and our own, which is required by law. The effect of social distancing and the banning of public gatherings is seen by most as the correct thing to do. However, on the other side of the scale, there are people who do not agree, who flaunt the regulations put in place because they believe their freedom should not be restricted by laws brought in on a public health issue. The impact of isolation can be devastating to many people, in particular, the elderly, those suffering from mental illness and those in abusive relationships. Putting in measures to help during a crisis is paramount, whilst assuring those who disagree that the ends justify the means and that these will be short lived.
Social distancing is used to try and halt the spread of Covid-19 by limiting physical contact with others who aren’t living in the same household. This has a knock-on-effect with large gatherings such as sports, concerts, funerals, weddings and activities such as shopping and education severely impacted. Transport such as buses, trains, taxis and flights have all been limited. However even with all the social distancing, people have found a way to interact with their neighbours in a way they’d never done before and the sense of community is stronger than ever.
The environment has flourished and there has been less air pollution. Flights have been grounded, factories have closed and there are less cars on the road, as countries battle to overcome Covid-19. Our ethical response to this virus in trying to save ourselves has also helped our planet, which goes to show with a collective will what can be achieved.
This brings up the most important ethical issue of our time, why is it only in a disaster do people show their true capacity to sacrifice and save the community they live in.