Coronavirus measures in Spain: a horizon of normality

The government is planning spaces where asymptomatic carriers could be quarantined, but mechanisms must exist to ensure the initiative respects the fundamental rights of individuals

A deserted street in Pamplona on Tuesday.
A deserted street in Pamplona on Tuesday.Eduardo Sanz / Europa Press

The Spanish government is considering creating spaces where asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus could be quarantined, although the Cabinet did not make an official decision about this at its weekly meeting on Tuesday.

Such a measure would complement the national strategy for containing the pandemic, and it would be especially relevant to facilitate citizens’ safe transition from the current situation of complete confinement to the subsequent phases, yet to be announced.

The implementation of this new initiative, in which regional governments are being asked to participate by contributing the spaces required to house asymptomatic carriers, will depend largely on whether the government has at its disposal the tests acquired in an overwhelmed international market.

But it will also depend on whether the necessary judicial mechanisms are enabled to ensure that this mandatory confinement, required on an individual basis, also respects the principles of the rule of law, and most particularly the fundamental rights of individuals.

Once the asymptomatic carriers have been identified, the government plans to offer them the available spaces, and it will be up to these diagnosed citizens to make use of them or not, on the assumption that they will rigorously observe the quarantine.

Under these premises, the measure seems simply aimed at making things easier for those who might be living with at-risk individuals or who, for whatever other reason, might have trouble stopping themselves from becoming involuntary spreaders.

A problem would only arise in the case of citizens who are diagnosed as asymptomatic carriers yet refuse to obey the mandatory quarantine. Although this is merely a hypothetical situation, and the current state of need seems like enough of a judicial argument to support action by the authorities, the protection of rights still needs to be unequivocally delineated and guaranteed. And much more so now that the state of alarm that the country has been in for several weeks will inevitably set a precedent for similar situations in the future.

In this regard, the most efficient guarantee would reside in the general procedures set forth in the Constitution and the laws concerning rights: there must be judicial control over any decisions applied to cases where citizens expressly refuse to observe the mandatory quarantine.

It is not true that authoritarian systems are more efficient than democratic ones in the management of exceptional situations; nor is it true that, once these situations arise, all systems are equal. To authoritarian systems, exceptionality is the norm, whereas for democratic systems, normality is the horizon that can never be relinquished.

English version by Susana Urra.

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