Living with a Pandemic: How to Do Better than Lockdown

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The COVID-19 pandemic presents us with the question of how healthcare systems can be prevented from being overwhelmed while avoiding general lockdowns. We focus on two strategies that show promise in achieving this, by targeting certain segments of the population, while allowing others to go about their lives unhindered. The first would selectively isolate those who most likely suffer severe adverse effects if infected – in particular the elderly. The second would identify and quarantine those who are likely to be infected through a contact tracing app that would centrally store users’ information. We evaluate the ethical permissibility of these strategies, by comparing, first, the ways in which they target segments of the population for isolation. We argue that the way in which selective isolation targets salient groups discriminates against these groups. While the contact tracing strategy cannot plausibly be objected to in terms of discrimination, its individualized targeting raises privacy concerns, which we argue can be overcome. Second, we compare the ethical implications of their respective aims. Here, we argue that a prominent justification of selective isolation policies – that it is in the best interests of the individuals affected – fails to support this strategy, but rather exacerbates its discriminatory nature.
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Archival date: 2020-12-31
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