Chile’s nighttime curfews for COVID-19 make no sense
By Sylvia Eyzaguirre T., courtesy of CEP
One of the fundamental functions of the Constitution is the creation of the State. It determines political organization, shapes the state, the government and the political system. The monopoly of force in the hands of the State makes citizens vulnerable to the eventual emergence of a Leviathan. Hence, another fundamental task of the Constitution is to strictly limit the use of force by the State to protect the freedoms and rights of citizens.
We live in exceptional times. As a result of the health measures to mitigate or contain the pandemic, our fundamental rights have been partially suspended. Confinement has been one of the main measures to combat the virus in a context where we still do not have a vaccine or an effective treatment for COVID-19. But to make confinement mandatory, the State needs extraordinary powers that allow it to suspend fundamental individual rights, hence the need to declare a state of emergency. These coercive measures have been taken by the vast majority of countries. Chile has not been an anomaly. On September 18, we completed six months in a constitutional state of emergency. Quarantines, curfew, border closures, the prohibition of interregional travel, the suspension of face-to-face school classes have been some of the measures implemented with high economic and social cost. But it is enough to look at the numbers of infected and dead at the planetary and local level to understand the gravity of the circumstances. Like never before, we have experienced the presence of other individuals as limiting our own individual freedom.
However, there are measures that are incomprehensible. Restricting free movement at night makes sanitary sense to the extent that free movement is a threat. If a commune is in quarantine and has restricted free daytime travel, then the curfew has a meaning in that commune. But what is the point of establishing a nighttime curfew in a place that has never been quarantined? Why is free movement restricted at night, if it is allowed during the day? Why can’t you go for a walk at night, when there are fewer people on the streets and, therefore, less possibility of contagion? There are communes that have not had cases of COVID-19, so why can’t their inhabitants move freely at night? Or does the virus behave differently during the day than at night?
From a health point of view, there are no reasons to have different social distancing or confinement measures during the day than at night. Some argue the need to maintain a curfew to avoid irresponsible behavior. But is that legitimate? Does the State have the right to restrict the rights of all citizens due to the potential irresponsibility of some? Isn’t this same argument used by totalitarian states?
It is impossible not to consider the arbitrariness of a measure that restricts fundamental rights, regardless of the context of place. Six months after the declaration of a state of emergency, I wonder where the liberals are, where was our critical spirit, to question in each case the relevance of the restriction of our freedoms, or at least to demand from the government a rational justification for each of them. In an optimistic scenario, it is most likely that next year we will have to continue living with the virus without a vaccine; in a more realistic scenario, it is likely that such living will continue for more years. The time has come to seriously think about how we want to continue living.
Sylvia Eyzaguirre T. has been a CEP researcher since 2014. She was director of the Philosophy Degree program at the Andrés Bello University between 2006-2009. Later, she joined the Center for Public Studies as a researcher between 2010 and 2011, and the following year she joined as an advisor to the Minister of Education, where she remained until 2014.