The coronavirus, which has engulfed all areas of our lives like a fog for a year and a half, has caused the death of almost 4 million people around the world and threatened the lives of 180 million. With the first, second, third or even fourth waves in some countries, COVID-19-related restrictions continued to change every day. Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, which recently vaccinated most of its citizens and eased restrictions with its effective vaccination campaign, are now facing the delta variant and are dubious about normalization.
While all this was happening, many began to criticize and protest the restrictions and measures taken to keep the virus from spreading further. All these actions that may infringe on freedom and personal rights have been set aside for the sake of public health. How we can ensure public health without violating personal rights is a question that needs to be answered by experts and sociologists.
The world is racing against time to beat the pandemic. After months of being locked down in our homes, we have found brand new communication methods.
It would be easy if the only thing that changed was the communication methods. The pandemic has changed our future as well and is likely to introduce a completely different world order.
I know that sounds like a conspiracy theory, but believe me, the role of the previous pandemics is undeniable in the transformation of the world.
Besides, we can easily observe how fast artificial intelligence integrated into our lives in the pandemic process and that gave us clues about the new world.
Like an introductory sentence of a dystopic novel: "Everything began last December," the virus that appeared on Dec. 31, 2019, in China's Wuhan spread to the whole world.
Governments, which started to take expeditious and drastic measures in the face of the virus, still could not prevent the increase in the number of cases. We found out in a short period of time how ill-prepared the word was for an epidemic.
Outbreaks have also brought about social and political changes such as colonialism and migration. Measures taken against the virus both led to social changes and became a way of preventing future epidemics.
That is why it is important to examine the major epidemics that have occurred throughout history and their consequences. Epidemics show us how disease and culture are intertwined. Especially outbreaks that occur in critical times can change the course of the wars and cause migration.
The relationship triangle between society, patients and policymakers constitutes a big part of the social effects of the pandemic. How society treats patients and society's approach toward restrictions are two major topics that should have been examined.
As can be seen around the world, many people are worried about measures violating their personal freedom.
Rallies protesting the measures started in Germany and have spread all around the world, from Brazil to Finland. German demonstrators held up signs that read "End the Lockdown" and "Corona Rebels" as they participated in a protest.
After the rising number of cases in Spain and Italy, demonstrations have started to be held again in some cities against the harsh measures. Crowds who confronted the police in the city center of Italy chanted "Freedom, freedom, freedom!"
These measures and restrictions brought new discussions about public health and personal freedoms, often seen as two opposing concepts. However, both need to be approached in a balanced way.
Nevertheless, the measures taken by the states today are not only specific to the coronavirus. When we look at the epidemics of the past, we see that strict quarantine measures were taken that often led to the end of the epidemic. Since the virus started to spread, strict quarantines were implemented including measures such as curfews and remote work.
In particular, individuals who have had contact with coronavirus patients were required to quarantine at home for a certain period of time. This practice, introduced to us in 2020, was a measure that had been used to prevent the spread of the plague or black death that caused many deaths in medieval Europe.
The black death, which hit Europe in 1347, claimed 200 million lives in just four years. At first, people didn’t know how to stop the disease, but they knew it was infectious. Hence, officials in the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa decided to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation until they could prove they weren’t sick.
Sailors were locked up in their ships for 30 days, which became known in Venetian law as a trentino. After a while, the Venetians increased the forced isolation to 40 days or a quarantino. This is the origin of the word quarantine which began being used more frequently in the Western world.
At the beginning of the 20th century, an epidemic that broke out during World War I swept the world and continued through World War II, taking more lives.
As the symptoms of the disease were similar to flu, it was not taken seriously until the second wave that caused a lot more destruction.
By December 1918, the virulent second wave of the Spanish flu had finally ended, however, it hit again in a short period of time. The virus spread again soon after Australia lifted quarantine measures. This is how the third wave erupted in the world.
The virus infected 500 million people worldwide and took the lives of approximately 20 million to 50 million. More people died due to these epidemics than soldiers and civilians during World War I.
Countries began to take more serious measures due to the rapid respread of the second wave. Extensive information about the Spanish flu is not available as the countries were still at war. There was no known treatment and vaccine for the disease. The only thing that stopped the epidemic was the strict measures taken.
In both major epidemics, public health was considered a priority and measures were taken in accordance with the conditions of the period and thus the epidemic was stopped. Public health has been given its due importance in the coronavirus pandemic as well and has been supported by technological advancement.
Technology has played a major role in the changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Words often heard in science fiction movies such as biometric data, surveillance technology, have become the reality of our lives today.
Ever since China informed the world about the emergence of the new virus, the priority of the states has been to prevent the spread and protect public health. In this process, special characteristics data, such as identity number, name, address, workplace and travel information, were also processed.
With the spread of the virus around the world, strict measures began to be taken quickly. The first measures came in the form of restrictions on entry and exit from countries. Later, a state of emergency was declared in many countries and the bans started to expand.
The scope of the restrictions expanded to curfews, closure of public spaces and limits on being outdoors based on age. Various protests were also repulsed.
Another issue that entered discussions was the tools used in the fight against the virus. In particular, these tools also raised new issues regarding the use of personal data.
Applications, such as citizen health information to a single type of ID card chip and thermal imaging with drones, are using technological tools on a much more personal level.
Everyone is now aware of the dangers of sharing personal information on social media and how it is capable of tracking your location. However, this technology, while being criticized for the same reasons, has become the most used tool against the spread of the virus. Many applications that we would never have imagined using became a regular feature of our everyday lives.
Especially in China, the methods used to contain the virus have brought science fiction movies a lot closer to reality. Especially after the virus, China increased the use of face-scanning high-tech cameras to identify who went outside and when. The country integrated thermometers that measure body temperature into camera systems and stored the overall data.
Issues such as the detection and control of people who have fever led to discussions on privacy and violation of personal rights.
With the facial recognition system installed in Beijing Qinghe station, photos of more than 200 people are scanned per minute.
In a mobile application called WeChat, the location information of individuals is detected by taking the bank card into its structure.
The Chinese government has granted all security and security personnel permission to access the data. For example, when a person applies to the hospital, information, including where he has been in the last 14 days, who he has met, where he went shopping, can be obtained.
This allows the application to make a list of people who came into contact with a person. A similar application in China Mobile, a China Telecom company, reveals the travel history of an infected person by looking at the GPS records.
Likewise, "face recognition technology" is used in other countries. The global disaster facing the whole world necessitates the use of such applications.
While the debate on masks continues, the world welcomed the vaccines with joy, thinking that all these lockdowns will end with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Today, 23.2% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Around 3 billion doses have been administered globally, and 41.26 million are now being administered each day.
While we were dreaming of making a quick return to the new normal, the discussions about the anti-vaccination started flaring up. Rumors that chips are being placed in our body with the vaccination and that our movements will be monitored through them began spreading. Anti-vaxxers claim that vaccines are more dangerous than the actual disease and that governments or scientific institutions are applying the vaccine with a plan to control society. The rumors have spread rapidly, especially on social media.
Opposition to vaccination is not a new debate. The idea of anti-vaccine has persisted since the 18th century when modern medicine developed.
When we entered the 20th century, this opposition continued to find its arguments on the basis of rights and freedom.
However, the point that needs to be focused on is the importance of public health. While restrictions on the movement of unvaccinated individuals from one country to another are seen as an infringement of individual rights, we have seen how important vaccines are for public health in epidemics throughout history.
We can already understand how important vaccination is for society, as the World Health Organization (WHO) included vaccine indecision in the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.
Technology, which has been used extensively in the fight against the epidemic, has created new discussions about personal information and privacy.
It is a question of whether the same control will continue after the epidemic. Nevertheless, we know for sure that strict measures have stopped major epidemics in the past.
Whether the measures and the technology used will become a permanent feature of our lives is yet to be seen. The best we can do now is to learn from the past and follow the coronavirus measures. This the only way, technology and social innovations will open a new chapter in our lives and carry our society to the next stage.
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