Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic at the end of January, countries around the world have put strict quarantine and social distancing measures in place to help control the spread of the virus.
Public gatherings have been banned, schools, restaurants, and all non-essential services have been shut down, and in some cases, citizens are only allowed outside once per day, and only with good reason.
For this reason, many parks, beaches, and other outdoor spaces have been closed, and people who attempt to use these areas are being asked by police to leave, or in some cases are even given a fine.
One expert, however, believes that these rules are misplaced, and are actually doing more harm than good.
“You’re Safer Outside”
According to infectious disease expert Professor Peter Collignon, from the Australian National University Medical School, banning people from sitting on a park bench or walking on a beach doesn’t make biological sense.
“You are safer outside than inside,” he said. “I do not see how anyone’s going to get this virus if they keep two metres away from someone and I don’t see how anyone’s going to get it if they sit on a park bench.” 
He, of course, agrees that beach parties should not be allowed, and people should not be congregating in groups in these areas, but he believes that the harsh restrictions preventing people from enjoying outdoor spaces were decisions made based on fear and not scientific data.
He is concerned that unwarranted restrictions will only lead to possible unrest and rebellion, and that the current measures are not sustainable in the long-term.
“I think this is not sustainable for six months,” he said. “We have to do everything we can to minimise the spread to others, but not do things that don’t even make biological sense.” 
Prediction Models are Wrong
The professor also stated that the models that are predicting hundreds of thousands of deaths are incorrect. He reminds people that those same models were used to predict the outcome of both the SARS, ebola, and swine flu outbreak, and in each case they were wrong.
He explains that the restrictions that were put in place in Australia at the beginning of the outbreak have been effective at controlling the virus and that any further restrictions would be of little benefit.
“Just like everybody else, I haven’t got a crystal ball, but the current data is reassuring that what we put in place 10 days ago has substantially decreased the spread and we’re not going to see an epidemic before winter. All of these additional things will make very little difference, but will cause huge social problems,” he said .
Restrictions and Rallies in the United States
In the United States, restrictions have already caused political unrest and rebellion. Protestors in Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky have taken to the streets, claiming that the COVID-19 restrictions are violating their constitutional rights and freedoms, and demanding that America be “reopened” .
International human rights laws recognize that in the case of a public health threat or emergency, certain fundamental human rights and freedoms must be restricted so long as the restrictions are based on scientific evidence, they are not discriminatory or arbitrary, they are for the short-term only, they respect human dignity, and they are appropriate to achieve the objective .
Of course, it is rare that everyone involved agrees upon what is and what is not considered discriminatory or appropriate, and thus can be a contentious issue between health officials, policymakers, and the general public.
In the United States, the death toll is increasing daily, officially passing forty thousand people as of April 19. Epidemiologists are strongly recommending that stringent social distancing rules remain in place until we see a consistent drop in daily new cases, however, the federal government is pushing to reopen businesses to avoid any further impact on the economy .
Similarly to Australia, many public spaces including parks, walking trails, and beaches have been closed. These closures, however, were put in place after crowds of people refused to listen to the social distancing recommendations from health authorities .
A Pessimistic Outlook
Colignon argues that as long as people stay two meters apart, they should be able to enjoy outdoor spaces without creating a threat to public health. He believes that since it is unlikely that we will be able to eliminate the virus altogether, we must find a way to live with it.
“My view is we are going to have this probably for the next 18 months to two years because that will be the earliest that a vaccine will become available, that’s my pessimistic outlook,” he said. “We have to come up with ways that minimise the transmissions of this virus, but I don’t think we can all become hermits for the next 18 months to two years.” 
Australia’s daily new cases have now been declining for the last couple of weeks, so the prospect of reopening some of their public spaces, with the necessary restrictions, could be a possibility. The outbreak in the United States, however, seems to be far from over.
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, American citizens did not, unfortunately, prove that they could police themselves in terms of respecting social distancing regulations, which has prompted governments to mandate harsher restrictions. If we do want to see America be “reopened”, we will need every citizen to take this pandemic seriously, and do their part to slow the spread of the virus. Until then, we will remain with closed restaurants, businesses, beaches, and parks.
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