Protests in a pandemic: basic rights vs. health

Whether deliberately or involuntarily, during the anti-racism demonstrations of the last two weeks protesters have not always adhered to social distancing rules. The same problem was also observed at rallies against the pandemic restrictions in some European countries. What can be done when the exercise of a fundamental right poses risks to public health?

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Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Don't accept the risk of deaths

Mass demonstrations such as the ones held on the weekend at which protesters failed to respect social distancing must stop, the Frankfurter Rundschau warns:

“Freedom of expression and assembly are fundamental rights. But where there are rights, there are also obligations. Apart from registering rallies, in times of the corona pandemic these include hygiene regulations. And although it might not be easy, these rights and obligations apply even during demonstrations. A good cause does not justify bad means. Whether it's conspiracy theorists who deliberately violate the distancing rules or anti-fascists who can't remain apart due to the crowds, in the end it makes no difference. Because acting this way means accepting the risk of people dying.”

Politiken (DK) /

Good that people are protesting

According to Politiken, the people at the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Denmark are showing a commitment that deserves protection:

“In every democracy, the right to demonstrate and to give physical expression to one's attitudes is one of the most important rights. ... In extreme crisis situations the right of assembly can of course be suspended, but fortunately this did not happen in the coronavirus crisis. And the fact that political demonstrations are being granted more freedom and space than almost anything else during the pandemic is a sign of a healthy society. What has driven the young Danes onto the streets in large numbers is not parties. ... They are driven by a protest against racism and discrimination. They have shown a sense of community and commitment for which they should be praised, not scolded.” (ES) /

Politicians focusing on the wrong issues

Spain's Minister of Health has urged protesters to adhere to the distancing rules during demonstrations. He would have done better to focus on other matters, anthropologist Nuria Alabao comments in

“The debate about public health conveniently covered up the debate about the living conditions of many migrants, and the everyday racism suffered by people who look different, whether or not they are Spanish. ... A minister who is concerned about safety should also take a look at the living conditions of the migrants who work in Andalusia's agricultural sector, because there are no security measures whatsoever in place there. In the fields of Huelva alone, around 3,500 people with a migrant background live crowded together in huts without even the most basic provisions for hygiene. Many don't even have water to wash their hands.”