The authoritarianism of liberal democracy in a global pandemic


A sign for a COVID-19 testing center in front of an employment center and employment office in Coalville, UK, December 14, 2020. / CFP

A sign for a COVID-19 testing center in front of an employment center and employment office in Coalville, UK, December 14, 2020. / CFP

Editor’s Note: Fiona Sim is a London-based freelance political commentator and public sector employee. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The pandemic has made it clear that the freedom to die is a key component of liberal democracies such as the UK, which has suffered over 12.6 million cases of COVID-19 and over 148,000 officially recorded COVID deaths. In a report on health inequalities linked to COVID-19, disabled and ethnic minority groups recorded the most striking death rates. If governance had been stronger, one would have to wonder how many of these people would still be alive and how many are suffering from preventable bereavement.

There are currently few restrictions in place in the UK, one being a recent warrant requiring the wearing of face coverings in most indoor public places except for eating and drinking. Currently, the UK has a 7-day average of 140,050 cases and its ally across the pond, the US, has hit a record high of 267,000 on a 7-day average. It comes in the face of a nationwide shortage of PCR and lateral flow testing, so these official numbers may not even add up to harsh reality.

Indeed, the UK has placed all its hopes in its immunization program, through which health workers have successfully immunized 70 percent of the population. A third vaccination program (booster) is already underway, but the UK government has ignored advice from the World Health Organization. This clearly indicates that one-time measures are not enough to stop the chain of infection.

Policymakers have decided on a COVID-19 strategy that puts daily workers and vulnerable members of the general public on the firing lines of the pandemic. Dystopically, millions of people are still expected to work without proper personal protective equipment and millions more are encouraged to continue supporting the so-called economy by frequenting bars, restaurants, clubs and cinemas. Most workers in the hospitality and retail industries also do not have the option of working from home.

The only choice becomes what risk to take: risk your life by going to work and catch the virus, or risk your life by refusing to work and potentially dying of poverty instead. Workers – essentially forced to work in hazardous environments – must pay the price.

Intensive care staff attend to COVID-19 patients in the Christine Brown ward at King’s College Hospital in London, UK, January 27, 2021. / CFP

Intensive care staff attend to COVID-19 patients in the Christine Brown ward at King’s College Hospital in London, UK, January 27, 2021. / CFP

Within hours of the New Year and celebrations slated to take place across the country, the government has resisted further restrictions. Rather, it sent a message of personal responsibility. This highlights the dangers of individualism and liberalism.

Collective and state responsibilities for saving life are delegated to the individual person, which means that the blame is not placed at the structural or systemic level. It is a way for the state to absolve itself from the consequences of its own policy. This way of thinking results in COVID-19 infections and deaths being described as personal tragedies as opposed to national tragedies.

While the main arguments for the UK’s strategy insist that vaccines have dramatically reduced the rate of hospitalizations and deaths, it does nothing to combat the millions of people infected. In London alone, it is said that one in 10 people currently owns the new variant.

Official press conferences and media coverage qualify the majority of cases of Omicron variants as “mild” in symptoms and “less severe”, but it is surely too early to tell with so little information on this strain. .

Studies have already found that about one in six symptomatic infections ends in a “long VOC” where symptoms persist for months and time will tell if it turns into years. Can a contraction of COVID-19 really be considered “mild” if the long-term effects can be debilitating and disabling?

While Xi’an officials have called the battle a “matter of life and death,” Western countries seem to view it as a “people-for-profit” issue. The threat to the market economy is allegedly so great that it outweighs the security and well-being of the population.

There is no evidence that this is the democratic free will of the people. Mourners have not voted for the deaths of their loved ones, but in countries like the UK, the state has demanded their losses be inevitable in their refusal to adopt strict measures to stop transmission.

Any free and independent thinker must ask themselves why a country like China, with a total death toll from COVID-19 of around 5,000, is labeled authoritarian and undemocratic by the Western mainstream media.

Yet countries that sacrifice millions of working class members to a deadly virus are still classified as “free and democratic.” The West can continue to denounce human rights violations and restrictions on freedom in Xi’an and other parts of China battling the virus, but the numbers don’t lie. Each new death from COVID-19 is one too many.

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