The COVID-19 pandemic raised questions about reconciling health priorities with the exercise of certain liberties and rights. Public safety has come into conflict with matters of mobility, freedom of expression, and the right to protest. How can the threat of viral transmission be reconciled with the urgency of political protests, such as in the Black Lives Matter movement? This article discusses various approaches, referring to debates in the United States and Australia, where law enforcement authorities and politicians warned against protest marches, generally citing the protection of public health as a qualifying exception. Numerous epidemiologists, while acknowledging risks, argued that a calculus of risk be deployed, citing public health as a variegated, multilayered concept. A similar balancing act was deployed in Australian courts. Such reasoning led to accusations that public health science had been politicized. Striking the balance remains a pragmatic approach to holding such gatherings during times of pandemic.
Binoy Kampmark is a senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne. He was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge and is a contributing editor to CounterPunch. Email: email@example.com
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