Dr Bruce Chen's op-ed (Herald-Sun Tue Aug 11, reproduced with prermission) says that in relation to the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, mask requirements are a "proportionate" and "justified" response to the pandemic.
THERE is no doubt that the public health responses to COVID-19 have had several human rights implications — our rights to liberty and freedom of movement, our ability to leave our own houses, to travel, and to see our family and friends.
Human rights have also been at the centre of debates surrounding the directive to wear face coverings in public, and people diagnosed with COVID-19 being able to leave their home for exercise.
The Premier has responded to protests against face coverings by saying that it is “not about human rights, it is about human life”. The Chief Health Officer raised Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights
and Responsibilities in relation to the exercise issue (the initial directive was overturned last week).
It is a symbol of our robust democracy that we are rightly able to raise our human rights in public discussions. However, that is only half of the story. Despite common perception, human rights are
generally not absolute. Under Victoria’s charter, they can be subject to interferences that are “justified” and “proportionate”.
The following questions need to be asked: What rights are being affected? Is the purpose legitimate? How significant are these interferences? Is there an evidence base for these measures? Are there any less restrictive options available (are we using a sledgehammer to crack a nut)? The burden lies on our government to ensure this test is satisfied.
Lockdown restrictions have the legitimate purpose of saving lives and preventing community transmission. Wearing masks falls within the “less significant” camp; for most of us, a minor hindrance.
It seems the scientific and medical advice is being taken seriously. Studies show face masks can reduce transmission by around 60 per cent. The directive also appears to have been carefully tailored, with exemptions for people with disabilities or health conditions. Face coverings are not such a big deal.
Prohibiting public exercise for people self-isolating, though, is a trickier balancing exercise. For those who do not have access to a back yard or fresh air, it effectively removes any real opportunity for
them to go outside — except for things like receiving medical care and medical supplies.
But given the highly transmissible nature of COVID-19, the temporary nature of being confined, and the enforcement issues being reported by doorknocking authorities, it arguably can still be justified and proportionate.
DR BRUCE CHEN IS A LECTURER AT
DEAKIN LAW SCHOOL AND FORMER
HUMAN RIGHTS ADVISER
The Herald Sun
Tuesday 11th August 2020
Page 23 | Section: OPINION