The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a deep threat to public health and the economy worldwide. It also threatens, however, fundamental aspects of our broader political, social and cultural practices, including democratic practices and well-established civil liberties.
As opposed to other forms of government, democratic life depends heavily on the ability to assemble, to vote, and to deliberate in public, all of which are made harder in the pandemic. It also depends on more informal, everyday cultural practices, including the exchanges of opinions between strangers in public settings, like schools, universities and libraries, and the shared community experiences that build social solidarity, stretching from public ceremonies to mass sporting activities.
All of these practices are threatened by the pandemic. The need for decisive, even sweeping top-down action from the world’s leaders, has undermined the usual practices of deliberation and accountability. Similarly, the need to maintain radical measures such as social distancing has undermined the possibilities of people coming together, whether in Parliamentary session or on the streets. The necessity of our response to the pandemic, therefore, endangers what we hold dear in a democratic society—namely, a healthy, but free and equal society guided by care and concern for all its members.