Supervised by: Tuscany Parkin BA LLB (Rhodes) BCL (Oxon). Tuscany graduated with the BCL Masters of Law from the University of Oxford earlier this year, specialising in Jurisprudence, Competition Law and Comparative Contract Law. She is currently reading for the MPhil in Legal Philosophy (particularly the philosophy of contract law). Previously, she obtained her BA in English Literature and LLB Law with honours from Rhodes University.
Different governments’ responses to the coronavirus have vastly impacted individual countries in regards to the rate of vaccination, mask mandates, and quarantining. Countries need to be held accountable for their actions in relation to the way they have each dealt with the coronavirus, an issue of mass safety. The United States, Iceland, and Madagascar have each had differing responses to COVID-19 that are still impacting their current safety regulations. When comparing these reactions, it is important to take into account each country’s developing status, as well as their population and legal system.
The United States
The United States’ response to COVID-19 has been greatly discussed around the world, as the US has had the most COVID cases, as well as the most deaths, at the time of writing. There have been 201 million cases of COVID and 4.27 million deaths worldwide, with the United States making up 35.7 million of the global cases and 616,000 of the deaths (1). Taking into account the United States’ population of 328.2 million, it can be determined that almost 11% of the population tested positive for the coronavirus at one point. Of the people who contracted the coronavirus, about 1.8% have died. As is explored later in this paper, this number is extremely high in comparison to other countries. This number of cases is particularly shocking considering that the United States ostensibly had a relatively rapid response to the initial outbreak. This data demonstrates that the United States seems to be one of the most unaccomplished jurisdictions in their handling of COVID-19. While these numbers are drastic, it should of course be remembered that the US is a highly populated country. On a positive note, this paper suggests that the US government did implement sensible legislation to manage citizens after they had tested positive for COVID. Citizens were mandated to quarantine at home for two weeks until passing another COVID test (2).
The coronavirus pandemic officially started in the US on 21 January 2020, when a novel coronavirus case was identified in Washington State (3). The United States’ previous president, Donald Trump, declared a state of national emergency in 2020. This resulted in quarantining, mask mandates, and business capacity restrictions. However, COVID regulations have been greatly debated within the US government and amongst its citizens, due to promises of freedom and individual rights. We believe that the constant back and forth debates about individual rights have caused the US government to handle the coronavirus somewhat irresponsibly. The US may have responded to COVID-19 quickly, but not adequately.
Implementation of Laws and Rules
The United States enforced multiple mild restrictions to try and limit the spreading of COVID-19. These restrictions include social distancing, a curfew, stay at home orders, mask mandates, as well as virus testing. I recall the pandemic was being discussed in the US in early 2020, though people seemed to be doubtful that it would have a significant impact. This ideology was opposed as the US government quickly took action by temporarily closing schools as early as April in order to establish social distancing. What was supposed to be a temporary closure quickly became a year-long shutdown. Speaking from personal experience, people seemed to think closing schools and wearing masks was an overreaction when COVID first struck. One of the authors remembers their mom telling them people found it amusing that she would go to the store wearing a mask and plastic gloves. Eventually, people appeared to realize COVID was much more serious than they had originally believed. Social distancing quickly extended beyond schools and reached shopping centers, businesses, and restaurants.
Later on, parts of the US implemented a curfew and promoted self-quarantining. Certain states, such as Florida and Ohio, implemented curfews that would result in disciplinary actions if broken. A BBC news article claims Florida city officials warned individuals to “vacation responsibly or be arrested.” (4). It has also been advocated that citizens be responsible with self-quarantining, as well as obeying curfews. For example, Pennsylvania recommended wearing masks when in public settings and enforced curfews for businesses and shopping centers. Certain individuals still were not sticking to self-quarantine recommendations; this resulted in mandatory stay at home orders in many US states. It is important to take into account that the United States is a very heavily populated country with approximately 328.2 million residents. Not only this, but it is an extremely developed country. The US is accountable for an extremely large group of people and has the resources to take care of its citizens. Sadly, the currently rising number of COVID cases (at the time of writing) demonstrates a lack in its ability to do so.
Mask mandates came along with quarantining. Citizens were initially encouraged and later mandated to wear a mask when in public. Stores had been given the right to refuse service to customers who violated mask mandates. Currently, mask mandates have been widely disposed of due to the vaccine being an option for all citizens (correct at time of writing). This has opened an opportunity for citizens to falsely claim that they have been vaccinated and walk around while possibly being exposed to COVID-19. Businesses are still given the right to enforce mask mandates within their establishment, as well as to refuse service.
While sporadic virus testing is not necessary, testing negative for COVID-19 is still essential in many aspects of life. For example, staff in healthcare sectors are regularly tested for COVID-19 in order to ensure their safety and the safety of their patients. Some colleges require a negative COVID test in order to be let onto campus (such as the University of Hartford). These restrictions extend to people flying into the United States internationally, who are obligated to get a COVID test no more than three days before traveling. In addition to a demanded COVID test, masks are needed in airports and on planes (5).
Financial Support for Citizens
In order to help the many American citizens who have been struggling financially during COVID-19, the United States government offered stimulus to those who qualified. In the initial stages of COVID, stimulus checks were given out to families. Stimulus checks generally consisted of $1,400 a month for each individual adult. Guardians could receive about $3,000 per child (6). This money was given out to people who have been monetarily affected by COVID.
Stimulus qualifications have changed over the months. The main qualifications are making within the set amount of money, as well as being over 18. Veterans who don’t typically file taxes are eligible for stimulus, as well as people incarcerated, are also eligible. People with owed child support stimulus checks may be set to pay off their debt before they receive it. There are many technicalities behind the qualification for each stimulus check. There have been three sets of stimulus checks so far, issued in April 2020, December 2020, and March 2021 (6).
The authors of this paper have seen people on social media requesting another stimulus check to help them through tough times. Due to the pandemic, people’s normal lives have been abnormal as of late. This causes people to look to the government to help keep their heads above water. In bad news for some families, there does not seem to be a fourth stimulus check coming (6).
In order to fight against and prevent the continued spread of the coronavirus, a vaccine was created and provided to the majority of America’s population free of charge. The current COVID-19 vaccine is available for ages 12 and up, with hopes of the vaccine being made available to younger children by September 2021 (7). Vaccine distribution began in the United States on 14 December 2020, with a range of vaccination options available (8). These vaccines were first distributed to healthcare workers in order to protect their safety while helping others. Vaccinations were initially focused on citizens with underlying health conditions (8). They have recently, at time of writing, become available to citizens under 15 years of age. In March 2021, the CDC reported that over 353 million doses had been distributed (9).
The United States’ current President, Joe Biden, got the vaccine himself and endorsed it to the residents of the US. With that being said, there is still much controversy surrounding the vaccine due to several negative theories about it. Many people have refused to take the vaccine for religious reasons, due to a belief in natural remedies, or because of other personal beliefs. In spite of that, the constant rising death rate due to COVID and the opposing positive endorsement has convinced many citizens to get vaccinated. Over 50% of US residents are now fully vaccinated (9). Nobody in the US can be forced to get the COVID vaccine, but it is a “necessity” in order to walk around mask-free in public. Unfortunately, as we stated previously, there is no requirement for proof of vaccination, which results in some people falsely claiming to be vaccinated, possibly infecting others.
The restriction of business activity and the closure of borders during the pandemic has widely disturbed personal contracts, as commercial parties question whether to terminate employment (6). Many aspects of the pandemic have had critical impacts on business relations. Customer restrictions are causing major revenue loss. There was a limit on the number of customers allowed within stores at the same time when COVID first struck. Keeping a minimal amount of people in stores was a hopeful tactic to halt the virus from spreading.
The enforcement of curfews and social distancing has also vastly impacted businesses’ income. In addition, some states’ curfews mandated that nonessential businesses close at given times, which prevents customers from coming in at later hours. For instance, bars and nightclubs have sustained an extreme hit to their income (6). Social distancing can also account for a loss of customers. While customers are still allowed to occupy businesses, waiting for others to leave may drive customers away. Closing bars, restaurants, and shops completely would have an even more extreme negative economic impact, meaning these measures are considered imperative.
Unemployment rates have also been increasing due to a lack of revenue from businesses (6). As a repercussion, these businesses cannot afford to be paying their now unnecessary employees, causing the unemployment rate to rise recently. Because of this, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is an option presented to American residents who have lost their jobs due to COVID. PUA allows people who have recently become unemployed to file an unemployment claim in hopes of receiving scheduled payments until they find a new job. Once accepted, individuals will receive organized payments in order to keep them afloat during this pandemic. On account of COVID “coming to an end”, unemployment assistance is set to end on 4 September 2021 (6).
In contrast to the United States’ quick response to the coronavirus, Madagascar spent valuable time denying the COVID vaccine (10). A spokesperson for the Madagascan government stated that they would be using traditional medicine to cure the coronavirus (11). Citizens in Madagascar were commonly skeptical about the COVID vaccine due to all the negative media surrounding it. Citizens may have been influenced by their leaders or could simply be afraid of all the fearful theories. Overall, Madagascar did not want to accept the COVID vaccine. Citizens stated that if they found vaccination necessary, they would prefer vaccines developed in their own country (10). Madagascar has since begun to accept the vaccine, and received their first doses in May (12, 13). Fortunately, even before they adopted the COVID vaccine, they were enforcing mask regulations. Citizens were mandated to wear masks until lockdown regulations were lifted. It was seen that citizens who were apprehended while violating the mask mandate were put to clean up city streets (14).
Implementation of Laws and Rules
Madagascar did take its time to accept the vaccine, yet they are handling COVID-19 with extreme caution. There are no restrictions on interstate or intercity travel, though COVID-19 tests are required for all air travel (15). All airline passengers to the US over the age of 2 years old must provide a negative COVID test in order to board the plane. Domestic flights are operating but, if someone wants to leave Madagascar, there are few flights and the individual must get in contact with Air France or Ethiopian Airlines to get on one (16). The previous policy of allowing free visa extensions has stopped; tourists who wish to depart from Madagascar must purchase a ticket then go to the immigration office. Furthermore, the only US citizens that are allowed to enter Madagascar are diplomats, technicians working in strategic sectors, and civil servants with special travel orders. US citizens are required to quarantine upon reaching Madagascar (16).
There is a curfew in place in certain parts of Madagascar that states citizens must be home by 4am (15). This curfew is relatively late compared to the curfews that were initiated in the US, which were usually set at 10pm or 12am. Social distancing is mildly enforced in Madagascar, with legislation forbidding assemblies of more than 400 people (15).
Public transportation is still available in the country, but it is necessary to follow safety precautions. Hand sanitizer is provided to everybody utilizing the transportation service.
Financial Support for Citizens
In order to support its citizens, the Madagascan government set up a cash transfer program in parts of Madagascar where the economy has been majorly affected by COVID-19. A recorded 244,000 households from over 769 neighborhoods received a cash transfer. In addition, the cash transfer program will go beyond households in order to assist in the reopening of schools. To carry out the program, the government mobilized its technical and financial partners. The World Bank contributed $12.7m alongside the World Food Programme, the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, the Malagasy Red Cross, CARE and Action Contre la Faim (17). A main goal of the World Bank was to preserve human lives and livelihood in the face of COVID-19. From the beginning of the pandemic, the World Bank has provided much-needed support to sustain Madagascar’s response to the pandemic in the health, social protection, and economic sectors (17).
Madagascar initially refused the COVID-19 vaccine. They had planned to stick to their own medicine already created by scientists in Madagascar (11). An African news article reported that a spokesperson for the Madagascan government suggested that they wanted to see the effectiveness of the vaccine in other countries before accepting it into their own (11). The country’s government recently accepted the COVID vaccine after widespread coronavirus infections. At the time of writing, Madagascar has made the vaccine available to everyone over 18 years of age (12). Madagascar has a population of 26.97 million people and has reported 38,874 COVID infections, with a minimum of 716 deaths (18). After accepting the vaccine, on 8 May 2021, Madagascar received its first batch of 250,000 vaccines. These first doses of the vaccine were given to health and safety workers, social workers and senior citizens who are at higher risk (13).
COVID had a big impact on employment rates in Madagascar, like in many other countries. From 2017-2019, Madagascar’s unemployment rate was 1.7%. This rate increased to 1.9% in 2020. Madagascar’s economic progress has also seen a steep decline due to the pandemic. COVID-19 pushed 1.38 million people into extreme poverty due to job losses in key manufacturing and service sectors, as well as the sudden decline in income for many informal workers in the city. Organizations like UNICEF, the Malagasy Red Cross, and the World Bank are working to provide support to citizens who have seen a loss of income due to COVID measures or trends (17). While there is, as yet, no formal act in place to benefit the unemployed, there hasn’t been as big a jump in unemployment numbers as seen in other countries. While the solution being taken is a little flawed, Madagascar is still working hard to defend against and protect its citizens from COVID-19.
Iceland is a great example of a country that handled the COVID-19 outbreak with great consideration and care, resulting in success. Less than 3% of Iceland’s population have been reported to have contracted the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic (19). In relation to other countries, this number can be seen as very low and a sign that they did act accordingly to prevent cases. In comparison, the US has seen 11% of its population contract COVID, Brazil 10%, and France also close to 10% (20). These numbers all indicate that Iceland was one of the more successful countries in implementing laws and safety regulations to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Alongside that, Iceland has a reported 30 deaths caused by the coronavirus from the start of the pandemic, which is extremely low considering the population of Iceland, which is currently counted as 356,991 (21). Less than 1% of the COVID cases and less than 0.01% of the total population has seen death resulting from the coronavirus. Not only was the Icelandic government swift in preventing cases from spreading, they were also quick to take action when individuals had contracted the virus. As seen in other countries, proper treatment of the virus was not always an option for everyone, resulting in a higher percentage death rate from the contracted cases. To support this, the United States is seeing closer to a 1% death rate, Brazil surpassing 5%, and France nearing 3%. A good reason for Iceland’s low numbers could be due, firstly, to Iceland’s smaller population compared to other countries, not even breaking half a million, as well as their geographical isolation from the world, seeing that Iceland is an island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean (19).
Implementation of Laws and Rules
In order to quickly stop the spread of COVID, Iceland used an extensive strategy for testing, isolating, and quarantining in order to avoid drastic restrictions that contravene human rights (19). The government implemented simple restrictions and limitations to avoid extreme rules and curfews. At first, group gatherings were limited to below 100, and then later changed to less than 20 people. Diagnostic testing on people with symptoms started a month before the first COVID case in Iceland was identified. The preemptive readiness of Iceland contributed to its great success, with the first case of COVID in the country reported in February (19).
By early March, nursing homes, hospitals, and other medical facilities at risk were closed to visitors to limit their contact. This is due to the Patients’ Rights Act that compelled healthcare services and nursing homes to apply measures in order to protect their patients and provide the best health service available. This ultimately lowered the cases of highly vulnerable people and contributed to the extremely low death count (19). By the middle of March, residents in Iceland were discouraged but not prohibited from traveling, while those who were traveling were encouraged to return swiftly (22).
The Minister of Health introduced the Health Security and Communicable Diseases Act in order to adopt measures in response to communicable diseases based on a recommendation from Iceland’s chief epidemiologist. The Act explicitly specifies quarantine, isolation, closing of schools, and gathering bans to take counteractive measures against communicable diseases (22). Early polls concluded that 96% of residents trust Iceland’s response and 85% consider it appropriate for the matter (23). Unlike other countries, drastic changes were not made to citizens’ daily lives; rather, simple precautions were made in order to prevent such drastic measures from later being put in place.
Financial Support for Citizens
Due to COVID restrictions and precautions, many businesses and workplaces were affected. Less business was seen and in turn many people lost their jobs. Citizens who saw a decline in their income after COVID-19 are able to apply for a government grant. However, there are some simple requirements to receive a grant. Firstly, the applicant’s income from 1 April 2020 to 31 October 2020 must have been at least 40% lower than their average income for the same seven month period in 2019. The income decline must be related to COVID-19 or the government’s measures to minimize COVID-19’s effect on the Icelandic community. Secondly, the applicant must have paid all due taxes and penalties as well as have filed all their tax returns and submitted their annual financial statements the last three years. Lastly, the applicant must not be in the process of being liquidated or in bankruptcy procedures. If accepted, the grant’s amount shall not exceed the operational cost of the applicant during the period from 1 April to 31 October 2020. In addition, individuals and parties who were forced to close their business by the Ministry of Health in relation to COVID-19 measures may apply for a government grant. Requirements for this grant are as follows: there must be an income decline of 75% compared to an equally long period wherein there were no restrictions of operations due to COVID-19. The amount of money issued in each grant may vary based on the period of closing (22, 24)
Iceland’s first doses of the COVID vaccine was received on 28 December 2020, with vaccination beginning the following day. The COVID-19 vaccine is optional and free of charge in Iceland, making it very accessible to anyone that wants it (25). Additionally, all foreign residents in Iceland have access to get vaccinated regardless of background, residency status, or whether or not they have a local Icelandic ID. By late June 2021, health authorities had officially invited all residents 16 and older to receive their first dose of the vaccine. As of 26 July, 68.58% of Iceland’s population was fully vaccinated and an additional 3.82% were partially vaccinated (25). In comparison, 50% of the US population is vaccinated, 22% of Brazil’s population, and 50% of France’s population. When compared to other countries, Iceland is observed to have a very high vaccination rate due to its smaller population, isolation, and vaccine availability.
In cases where employees are quarantined but do not have a right to a salary from their employer, they shall be paid by the government (22). This Act is to allow individuals to follow the commands of the public health authorities without worrying about loss of income. An estimated 140,000 individuals, or a total of 75% of the total employment market, will be affected by the Act. The Act applies to employers, employees and independently employed individuals on the private employment market. The Act states that certain conditions must be met; for instance, the employer of the quarantined employee must be able to prove that he has paid the employee’s salary during the active period, which is from 1 February to 3 December 2020. Companies and businesses that are not able to fully operate are encouraged to temporarily downgrade full-time employees to working part-time, rather than just terminating the contract of employment. This has led to increased part-time employment and a decreased amount of unemployed people compared to most countries. Those employees that have been downgraded to part-time workers also have access to unemployment benefits. These benefits would amount to the proportional loss of income of the employee after they were downgraded to part-time. The employee’s employment rate must have been reduced by at least 20%, and said employee must still maintain a 50% employment rate. Additionally, the amount of money from each individual’s unemployment benefits is calculated based on the limit of income-based unemployment benefits in proportion with the decrease in the employment rate. The total sum of the benefits, plus the salary maintained by an employee, shall never exceed 90% of the employee’s average total salary for the last three months before the application for the benefits is filed (24). Furthermore, citizens who are self-employed can apply for temporary suspension of their business operations with the Icelandic Tax Authority and subsequently apply for unemployment benefits if they experience a recession due to the outbreak. Individuals who are self-employed do not have to file for the termination of their business operations in order to apply for benefits used before the new laws took effect. Overall, both employers and employees in Iceland are eligible for many benefits if their work or income is affected by COVID-19 or the attendant government mandates (22).
The response and reaction rate of different countries was a key factor in how citizens’ daily lives and safety have been protected. Many factors contribute to a country’s response and also how effective each response is. This has been demonstrated through the comparison of effects of population, geographical location, legal system, and many other things throughout this paper. Once again, countries need to be held accountable for how they handled COVID-19 in order to better their citizens’ lives, while we are able to look at what they did and offer suggestions to improve upon it. The United States, Madagascar, and Iceland all handled the situation very differently; however, they did so in their own way to protect citizens and in an attempt to make it safer for them.
- https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/ https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/iceland-population/