Terms such as freedom and liberty are often thought of as being clear cut in what they mean – everyone agrees on what those words mean. Or do they?
I think most Americans and Kiwis would agree everyone has a right to be able to drive on public roads. However we understand that driving can have serious repercussions if one doesn’t have the necessary skills to to do so safely. In order to limit the amount of harm, drivers need to provide evidence that they have the necessary skills to control a moving vehicle – a driver’s licence. Once you have shown you can competently control a motor vehicle, you retain that right until you prove that you no longer hold the necessary skills – a serious driving offence or a failed eyesight test for example.
While the US constitution guarantees some form of firearms ownership for the purposes of a “well organised militia”, and NZ doesn’t even have a codified constitution, both nations to have a long standing tradition of gun ownership, which might be reasonably be viewed as being a “right”. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the consensus is that the right to gun ownership is similar to the right to drive. It’s necessary to prove your competence to own and use a weapon safely, and this is done by a testing regime no less strenuous than that which applies to driving a vehicle.
My impression of the US is that the right to own, and perhaps more importantly carry firearms is more divided. While I think the largest block hold views not too dissimilar of the predominant view here, there are significant blocks that hold different views. At the one end there’s the card waving NRA membership that demand nothing less than a completely unregulated, uncontrolled “right” to own and carry weapons, even opposing background checks for goodness sake! Anything else is an attack on their constitutional “rights”. At the other end of the spectrum there’s a small group who call for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment or at least a reinterpretation of what it really means.
So when it comes to firearms, opinions in the US are more divided on what rights and freedoms mean and what limits, if any, should be imposed when balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of others, including the community as a whole. I believe most people understand that as well as rights, we have responsibilities, and that those responsibilities, if they are to be fairly shared, may need to be regulated in some way. I think the same is true when it comes to covid-19.
In his post “Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Peter Davis – Vaccine passport and smoke-free law” Peter Davis draws on the NZ experience of how the attitude towards smoking has changed over the decades – from one where smokers were exercising their “rights” to smoke and non-smokers had little or no recourse, to one where the dangers of second-hand smoke are understood and now prohibited in workplaces and most public venues – and how this precedent might be applicable to covid-19. It’s worth the read, and it might help some of those still sitting on the fence to understand why the unvaccinated may find they have fewer “freedoms” than the vaccinated.
Given that the evidence overwhelmingly confirms that one in three people who contract covid-19 have at least one symptom of long-covid, even 18 months after first being infected, the impact of long term health and social costs are, as yet, unknown. How can anyone on their right mind claim their “right” to unrestricted movement surpasses my “right” not to suffer long term health issues caused by their recklessness?
In many ways, we have been playing pandemic “Russian roulette” for decades – especially as the cost of international air travel has declined significantly. By way of example, when I first travelled to Japan in 1971, the return air fare cost the equivalent of 75% of my annual salary. International travel was not something one did without some long term planning and saving. It certainly couldn’t be undertaken on a whim. If I was still in the same job in January 2020, the same return journey would have cost as little as 1.5% of my annual salary. Pre covid, a trip from Aotearoa to Australia could cost about the same as a night out at an upmarket restaurant.
We must acknowledge that with so many people moving around the globe we have indeed become a global village. In the past the relative isolation of villages, towns and nations meant that pandemics were relatively rare, and when they did occur, they spread at a slow pace. That is no longer true.
We are far more mobile these days (well, pre-pandemic), than we have ever been in the history of our species, and this presents a greater risk of new infectious diseases spreading at uncontrollable rates across the planet. In many ways I think we have been lucky that this pandemic has been relatively mild, especially when it comes to fatalities. We may not be so lucky next time. And as sure as night follows day, there will be a next time.
It’s wishful thinking to assume we will ever return to pre-covid days. It’s not going to happen. The public (well most of us) now understand the harm a pandemic can bring – something epidemiologists have been warning us for years while we and the politicians we elect have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to their message.
As I see it we have two options: freedom from documentation and a restriction on movement, or freedom of movement accompanied by documentation, vaccination passports being one of them. I know which I would prefer. How about you?
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