The COVID-19 pandemic is being described as the world war of this generation. The difference between the world wars and a global health crisis? We all have the same enemy: the novel coronavirus.
As more and more countries go into stricter lockdowns, there is a battle being fought that no one could have predicted at the outbreak of this illness. This, of course, is the battle between those who are choosing to follow the social distancing rules and those who refuse to listen.
Many People Aren’t Following Social Distancing Rules
In Asian countries like China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan, implementing draconian-style social distancing rules is much easier than the Western world. In many cases, governments were able to completely lock down countries so swiftly that despite their proximity to the country where the outbreak began, both cases and deaths due to the virus have been very low. So much, in fact, that some countries in Asia, including China, are slowly beginning to reopen and somewhat return to regular public life. (9)
Strict rules such as those have been difficult to put in place in Australia, European and North American countries because of a different style of government as well as values that are based more on public freedom and expression.
This problem has been quite evident in the United States, a country where “freedom” is essentially its slogan.
This strong sense of individual liberty, as well as a lack of understanding as to the severity of this pandemic, are causing people to almost take a stance against the suggestions from public health officials and medical workers that they need to just stay home. After a viral tweet about recent dinner at a crowded Red Robin restaurant, 30-year old Las Vegas woman Katie Williams had this to say:
“Me, personally, I just refuse to live my life in fear…As Americans, we typically do what we want. It’s kind of that attitude we’ve always had,” she added. “I think if we’re going to start pressuring people that they have to stay home, or publicly shaming them like pariahs, I think we’re just starting to lose a little bit of our sense of country and our sense of rights.” (10)
Other countries, such as Australia and The UK, have also struggled, with spring breakers crowding Bondi Beach and many British people crowding into their favorite pubs chanting “F*** coronavirus!”. (10)
Why People Refuse to Listen
There are many reasons why still many people are refusing to listen to social distancing rules. For most, it’s a combination of a few of these, none of them very good.
- Being forced to stay at home is seen as an attack on their personal freedom.
As already mentioned, particularly in America, where being a free nation is part of the national identity, people aren’t used to being told by their government that they can’t do something that is part of their constitution.
- We’re being asked to care about others’ health over personal freedom.
When the virus first broke, it was largely affecting the elderly and vulnerable. This sent the message that if you do not belong to either of those groups, then you were safe and have nothing to worry about. What wasn’t communicated effectively from the start is how healthy people can still pass the virus on to vulnerable populations. The idea of following the rules for the safety of people they don’t know has been lost on many, with one spring breaker at Bondi Beach in Australia saying
“If I get corona, I get corona… At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying.” (10)
- They don’t trust that the government is telling them the truth.
In every crisis, national or global, there are the conspiracists out there who don’t believe that the government is telling them the truth. There are ideas out there that the COVID-19 is an American manufactured bioweapon that was meant to hurt their largest economic power, China. (11) This is just one of many theories out there, all untrue. Regardless, that distrust in the government makes people want to defy the rules being put into place for their own safety.
- Leaders aren’t communicating the illness and its severity properly.
Political leaders are not delivering the right messages, and in some cases have not been taking the warnings from harder-hit nations such as China, Italy, Iran, and Spain seriously enough. Telling people to just not go to a restaurant, the beach, or to the bar on Saturday night is not enough. When these public gathering places are still open, people will continue to go there with the mentality that if they are still open, it must be safe to be there.
President Trump made uninformed comparisons to the flu which lead people to believe the rest of the world was overreacting. California representative Devin Nunes encouraged Americans to go out and support local businesses, other state representatives tweeted out defiant photos of themselves at crowded restaurants. Senator Ron Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“We can’t all just shut ourselves and stay home…The economy has to move forward.” (10)
All of these messages being sent out not only encourages those who already scoffed at social distancing measures to continue as usual but also pushes those who were on the fence to make riskier decisions.
- The necessary response to COVID-19 is different from past world crises.
In past global crises, such as war or natural disasters, the British war slogan “keep calm and carry on” has been the idea: As best people can, they were encouraged to continue going about daily life to support the economy and the war effort. Staying home and essentially doing nothing was seen as acting in fear and unpatriotic. In the case of infectious illness, however, staying home and “doing nothing” is the best possible way to help your country and the planet. Getting people out of that former thought train and onboard with the idea that they must stay home away from their friends and family is extremely difficult.
The situation in countries like the United States stands to get much worse if these rule-breakers continue to act against the suggestions and warnings of public health officials. The government may need to start implementing the rules from other countries in order to put a stop to this deadly disease.
Social Distancing Around the World
In nearly every country around the world, governments are putting social distancing and isolation rules in place to help “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19. In Germany, a two-person rule, save for families who live together, has been put in place which limits the number of people that can be outside together to two. In France to go outside, you have to have a government document stating your purpose, which can only be for groceries, pharmacy, the doctors, or for a walk or jog. The UK has implemented a rule which prohibits walkers and joggers from going out more than once a day. In Spain, even physical exercise has been banned. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
At this point, more countries’ schools are closed, from the preschool level straight through to universities and colleges. In many places, most businesses and offices have been closed and people are working from home. Tourist attractions are closed, special events canceled or postponed, and now even parks and beaches shut down until further notice.
In China, Singapore, Canada, most European countries, and many other places, breaking at least some if not all social distancing rules has become punishable by law. This can range from a fine to months or even years in prison. (1, 4, 7, 8)
The Bottom Line
While to the American public many of these rules seem drastic and unconstitutional, the reality is we are currently living in unprecedented times. Everyone must think about the safety of the collective, not just about themselves and their personal rights. They also must realize that these are temporary measures. The faster and harder we follow these rules, the sooner we will be able to return to normal life.
Until everyone starts practicing social and physical distancing, COVID-19 will continue to spread across the country, infecting millions and paralyzing the economy.
Do the right thing for your country and the world and just stay home.
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