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It Didn’t Have to be This Way: Reflections on the Ethical Justification of the Running Ban in Northern Italy in Response to the 2020 COVID-19 Outbreak

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Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Bioethical Inquiry
Accepted/In press2020

King's Authors


In this paper I discuss the ethical justifiability of the limitation of freedom of movement, in particular of the ban on running outdoors, enforced in Italy as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring of 2020. I argue that through the lens of public health ethics literature, the ban on running falls short of the criterion of proportionality that public health ethics scholars and international guidelines for the ethical management of infectious disease outbreak recommend for any measure that restricts essential individual freedoms, such as the freedom of movement. The public health ethics framework, however, falls short of explaining the widespread public support that the running ban has had in Italy. I discuss possible factors which could explain the public support for the ban in Italy. Finally, I raise the question of what societal implications the abandonment of the public health ethics framework based on proportionality might have. I conclude that if it is the case, as the history of pandemics teaches us, we will experience further waves of COVID-19 outbreaks, it becomes very important to raise these questions now, with an eye towards informing public health policies for the management of future COVID-19 outbreaks. This discussion should not become politicized along the lines of liberal pro-lockdown/conservative anti-lockdown. Instead, we should reflect on the trade-offs of lockdown policies according to a pluralist framework, in which COVID-19 related deaths are not the only possible value to pursue.

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