As we approach the most important day of the Christian calendar – Easter -, let us be grateful for all the blessings we have and give thanks to all those brave individuals that are putting their lives at risk to keep us safe and provide food for our tables.
Celebrating Easter which is a communal event will be a challenge this year with no church services and families like mine canceling family gatherings due to the fear of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the images that stands out in my mind during this pandemic was that Pope Francis, who gave a rare Urbi et Orbi blessing on March 27th from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica to an empty St. Peter’s Square. The Pope, standing alone in St. Peter’s Square, under the rain, praying for the virus to end, is destined to become the most iconic image of the pandemic. This year the Pope’s traditional Easter address will be live-streamed with no faithful gathering in at the Square.
Easter is a time of reflection and an opportunity to examine our lives and our surroundings. It is also an opportune time for greater international cooperation in responding to disease outbreaks.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause major havoc around the world and many countries have also been putting out messages of hope and gratitude to the front-line workers who have risked their lives to save others. Sadly, many doctors and nurses as well as priests have died while attending to the victims of the virus.
International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health. However, human rights law also recognizes that in the context of serious public health threats and public emergencies threatening the life of the nation, restrictions on some rights can be justified when they have a legal basis, are based on scientific evidence. It is for this reason that governments around the world have banned large gatherings, thus for the first time in our generation there will be no church services during Easter.
The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of a quarantine.
The death of a Chinese doctor who tried to warn about the coronavirus outbreak has sparked widespread public anger and grief. Li Wenliang died on February 7th after contracting the virus while treating patients in Wuhan. In December 2019, Li sent a message to fellow medical professionals warning of a virus. However, instead of adhering to his advice, government and police officials in China harassed him for making “false rumors.”
In Italy more than 60 health-care professionals have died so far, some have blamed this on the lack of protective equipment, such as masks.
Around the world we have seen through social media and the news, people confined to their homes coming to their windows and balconies to show their thanks to front line workers, by applauding or even banging their pots and pans.
On my radio and television, we have seen advertisements thanking not only doctors and hospital staff but also truck drivers who delivered food to the grocery stores, train operators, police, public transit workers, taxi drivers and pharmacy staff.
Unfortunately, often left out of the list of those that are providing invaluable work are cleaners, among the most undervalued and underpaid workers in our society. Their work saves thousands of lives each year – in hospitals and public spaces – by extinguishing the invisible virus.
We need to be grateful for what blessings we have and thank all those who are risking their lives to keep us all safe and healthy and hope that the memories of this Easter will be remembered but never again repeated.
Dr. Mario Silva, PhD (law)/MS *Distinguish Fellow, Ryerson University