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Test certificate could help reopen society, but at what cost?

On 11 May the House of Representatives voted in favour of a law that will enable some sectors to reopen sooner than planned with the aid of test certificates. Political philosopher Josette Daemen is critical of the new legislation. ‘Just because we get used to measures doesn’t make them desirable.’

In the NOS Journaal news recently, you were critical about the possible introduction of test certificates. Why shouldn’t we do that to prevent unnecessary victims?

‘This is about striking a balance between safety and freedom. The government wants to avoid any more Covid victims and is therefore building in extra safety with these test certificates. But this safety is at the expense of our freedom to participate in society without constantly having to be tested, as things were before the pandemic. Restricting our freedom to protect our safety can be justified, but I think it’s important not to lose sight of the value of freedom at a time when political eyes mainly focusing on safety.’

But I think I’d feel safer at a festival if everyone had tested negative.

‘That’s logical. But with every safety measure that restricts our freedom, we have to think about whether we really do want this. The literature is clear: once a certain development has been classed as a security issue, then it’s not as easy to reverse the associated measures. We have to keep asking ourselves whether a measure is proportional. The regular flu claims victims every winter too, so perhaps we should always wear a face mask. And an extra benefit of a curfew is that it prevents rather a lot of break-ins. In short, with almost any strict measure you can prevent a risk. But complete safety is an illusion. So the question is always: is the cost in proportion to the gains? And what does this do to our freedom?’

Josette Daemen on the NOS Journaal news

Do you mean that the government knowingly maintains these strict measures to prevent other risks?

‘Not at all. That would imply a conspiracy, What I mean to say is that we should make sure we don’t move towards a more controlled society if that’s not what we actually want. Take the situation in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the start of the coronavirus crisis. At that time we in the Netherlands couldn’t imagine that we would be dealing with such lockdowns a few months later. We now have months of curfew behind us. But just because we get used to the measures doesn’t make them desirable in the long term.’ They may be justifiable at a certain point, but we should remember why we initially found them so dystopian.’

Is there an alternative to test certificates?

‘As the vaccination campaign progresses, I don’t think it’ll be too long until society can gradually without any major outbreaks. The new test certificate law will mean certain sectors can open that bit sooner, from 1 June. Why should we rig up a system for that short intervening period, if we may not be able to get rid of as easily?’

Read also: Biology alumnus closely linked to Janssen vaccine

As lead of the Janssen Campus in the Netherlands, alumnus Bart van Zijl was closely involved in the development of the vaccine. ‘I am definitely very proud of Leiden!’

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