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Ethicist explains why society accepts ‘burdensome’ lockdown restrictions

“In a charming phrase, Hobbes compares laws to roadside hedges, which ‘are set, not to stop travellers, but to keep them on the way’.”

“Obviously, it is in the interest of each of us that the harm of the coronavirus be limited as far as possible. The question is, what should we do to achieve this?

“Since we need to coordinate our actions, we should stay informed about the steps we can take to protect ourselves, and conform to government directions about behaving to limit the risk we pose to others. If too many people do not so conform, the government has no choice but to step in and further legislate, turning advice into law.”


What were originally guidelines about social distancing measures and self quarantine measures have since been enshrined in law and enforced by police. In Victoria, 92 people were fined for breaching lockdown restrictions in the 24 hours before 11pm Saturday.

Mr Alexandra said the state also has ethical responsibilities during the crisis.

‘‘Most fundamentally, it must treat its citizens as rational, autonomous agents,” he said. “So, it must provide clear, concise and consistent information and advice.”

Mr Alexandra says there can be grounds for governments to withhold information that may generate fear and panic, but this is not one of those times.

“This is not a time of military war where strategies must be kept secret, but a collective health crisis.

“It is our health at stake: we have a right to know relevant facts, and policymakers (have) an ethical duty to be fully transparent. Moreover, the public is only likely to support radical and unfamiliar new policies if they can understand the rationale for their introduction.’’

Mr Alexandra notes that, even if we should act in accordance with government direction, the government remains our agent.

“We are still permitted, even obliged, to continue to assess, evaluate and – if appropriate – criticise its behaviour,” he said.

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