COVID Containment Policies: The Tradeoff Between Life and Freedom

In his article, “How China Controlled the Coronavirus,” Peter Hessler details the precautions taken by China to slow the spread of the virus. He makes an interesting point concerning the idea that Chinese value “life over freedom,” while Americans’ priorities tend to lie elsewhere.  

In China, a nationwide lockdown was issued early on to contain the spread of the virus. Any person who tested positive, regardless of their symptoms, was required to quarantine for two weeks, separated even from their families. The issue of a nationwide lockdown, similar to the issue of mask mandates, has become a topic of controversy in the US, with many Americans unwilling to give up these personal freedoms to protect the health of the general public. It’s also safe to say that most Americans would not respond well to the thought of a COVID-positive child being separated from their family for two weeks to quarantine. not respond well to the thought of COVID-positive children being separated from their families for two weeks to quarantine. 

While Americans’ value of freedom is typically justified, it cannot be prioritized over the health and safety of others. Personal freedom should not be taken away, but an issue like public health affects everyone around you, making it a community problem. In cases like these, it’s important to prioritize the safety of a large group over the freedom of any one individual. 

It’s also important to remember that the policies that would be enacted to contain COVID wouldn’t be permanent. A lockdown would need to have an end-date on it, and it’s unrealistic to expect people to continue wearing masks for the rest of their lives. People aren’t being asked to surrender their freedom forever: as seen with China, it would only take a couple of months of diligently following the implemented policies to contain the virus to a point where we could safely return to “normal.” While individual freedom is certainly a highlight of American democracy, asking people to temporarily surrender some small aspects of that freedom in order to save the lives of those around them really shouldn’t be so controversial. 

While some of the methods used in China may be viewed as extreme or paternalistic in other countries, they were clearly more effective than the route taken by the United States. While we are currently experiencing another peak of COVID cases and seeing a higher number of new daily cases than at any other point since the outbreak began, China’s numbers greatly improved as a result of their policies, allowing them to return to “normal life” much sooner than in the US. 

Many mistakes have already been made in the US handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but at this point, the real questions lie not in the past, but in the future: what comes next? With a change in our nation’s leadership approaching, how can we implement policies that will slow the spread of the virus without impeding on the personal freedoms that Americans hold so dear? Is there a way to effectively satisfy both the values of life and freedom? Or must freedom step to the side while we handle the immediate threat of the virus?

2 thoughts on “COVID Containment Policies: The Tradeoff Between Life and Freedom

  1. Cassie Srb

    I agree with Hessler’s assertion that while China values “life over freedom”, the same cannot necessarily be said about America’s priorities. Leah does a great job of showing examples of how Americans would not be ok with some of the privacies and rights that were infringed upon the Chinese people, such as the child being taken away from his family and a full lockdown. We do not need to speculate how some of the American people would react to a full lockdown and a mandatory mask mandate- it was met with protest such as the armed storming of the Idaho State House, claiming the state was doing “too much” and infringing the rights of Americans with Idaho’s call for a stay-at-home order and required masks. How would some Americans have responded to advanced IT implementations to combat COVID, such as GPS and Bluetooth tracking if they were upset about something as simple as having to wear masks? I find it interesting that there are so many laws and regulations for the security of people’s privacy in America, especially regarding technology. Why is it so hard to implement the same thing for other issues that are just as important, such as healthcare and personal human rights?

  2. Harrison Pire

    Leah does a great job of analyzing the often stark responses of both countries in this pandemic. The Chinese response has been to insist on strict quarantine,7 rules, and mandates that essentially enabled the country to greatly reduce the number of Covid cases and almost eliminate the need for masks. Her main argument is that the Chinese have been willing to give up certain “freedoms” in order to quickly return to a “normal” tomorrow, whereas Americans view these concessions as an attack on personal freedom. This unwillingness to adapt is what has led the US to disregard the trend of the pandemic. I find it ironic that Americans have such a strong sense of nationalism and pride for their country yet are unwilling to wear masks and follow certain protocols in order to protect others fellow US citizens. It’s truly mind boggling to see the amount of pushback and controversy surrounding the use of masks, when it is a minor inconvenience at most. Maybe a potential solution to Leah’s ultimate question would be for the government to give out small stimulus checks to citizens as an incentive to stay home and ultimately reduce the number of cases.


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