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Civil Liberties Are Being Trampled During Coronavirus Panic

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP

PARIS -- French President Emmanuel Macron and his right-hand man, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, have a good cop/bad cop act going on here. Word leaks to the media that Macron is erring on the side of freedom with respect to some potential future measure to tighten the screws on the current quarantine. Then, in a national address, Philippe informs us which of our freedoms will be curtailed.

On Monday, Philippe said that any outdoor exercise must be done within 1 kilometer of your home, and that the time of departure has to be included on the permission slip that you download from a government website and carry with you whenever you leave the house or apartment. We're now allowed no more than one hour per day for exercise. What's next -- telling us the brand of running shoes that we're allowed to use?

Prisoners aren't stuck in small cells with their families all day, as many French are. Jailed felons don't have to figure out how to keep a roof over their head or feed themselves. Many people here would live more comfortably right now if they were caught taking a 10k stroll and wound up behind bars.

The French agriculture minister, seemingly inspired by Chairman Mao, has invited up to 200,000 citizens currently stuck at home to work the fields for the next three months. There's even a sign-up website. You can't make stuff like this up.

Quarantine compliance in France is now being monitored by drones, according to reports. There have been efforts in Europe and around the world to permit authorities to exploit mobile phone data in the interest of better protecting people.

Are we supposed to trust a government that told everyone go to out and vote en masse, then within hours ordered everyone to stay in their homes and avoid other people? Why would we have faith in a government that calls this a war but has yet to implement a wartime mass-production economy to make ventilators, the shortage of which serves as justification for our lockup?

As of Tuesday, the morbid daily "death ticker" showed 19,856 cases of coronavirus in France, with 860 fatalities in a country of 67 million. There are about 600,000 deaths a year in France. A recent study found that 37,626 died from respiratory illness in 2013. Tumors killed 163,602, circulatory diseases killed 142,175, and 9,819 French citizens killed themselves -- a figure 10 times greater than the number of coronavirus deaths. Will anyone notice the suicide rate skyrocketing if this confinement persists?

Oh, but we have a dire scientific model from Imperial College London showing what could happen! Sure, and we've also had scientific models for climate change that, depending on the study, have tried to sell us on the idea that we'll be living either in a flaming inferno or a giant icebox in a few years. On one hand, we're told that researchers know little to nothing about this virus. On the other hand, we're told that the virus they know so little about is going to kill millions of us.

In the meantime, our governments are crashing the global economy and causing all sorts of harm to people's psychological, physical and financial well-being by cherry-picking which science they choose to believe.

And why does this virus seem to go after so many celebrities and high-profile politicians. Have we finally found the true "affluenza virus"? Or is it just more likely that these people have access to testing kits largely unavailable to the rest of the public? If the percentage of infected rich and famous is extrapolated to the general population, it could mean that the virus is already widespread -- thereby making the death toll seem even less alarming.

No one's saying it's a good idea to take unnecessary risks or to be reckless with your health. Some people with physical vulnerabilities may want to exercise particular caution. And if there's anything good to come from this, it could be an increased awareness of personal hygiene, or the general disrespect for personal space going out the window permanently.

Paris is an absolutely filthy city where basic hygiene leaves much to be desired. The French government is now calling for large-scale public disinfection proposals. It's quite a change from the signs that the government used to post everywhere kindly requesting that people not use the sidewalks as a toilet. All of this could apply to many large cities around the world.

But U.S. President Donald Trump is absolutely correct in saying that the cure cannot be allowed to become worse than the disease. That's arguably been the case already, given that our most basic civil liberties have been obliterated.

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