A Good Reason is an independent research project with the aim of critically documenting stay-at-home policies in Europe. At the same time, A Good Reason wants to raise awareness of the undesired effects of stay-at-home orders as well as of ethical objections to them. The information on this website shall contribute to both research and public discussion on the costs and benefits of stay-at-home orders, including curfews and other limitations to the individual right of movement.
The point of departure for this project is the widespread notion that lockdowns, including stay-at-home orders, are a necessary tool to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. There are numerous examples of media reports portraying lockdowns as “inevitable” or making statements such as “country X was forced back into lockdown”. This spin on lockdowns being inevitable has spread widely in the general public as well. All sorts of events are cancelled “due to Covid” when it is actually “due to Covid policies” which are, or at least should be, a matter of public debate.
Stay-at-home orders are a new policy in modern, democratic societies. The public belief of lockdowns being a successful or indispensable tool of public health policy will very likely lead to the continued application of similar policies. There is no reason to believe that SARS-CoV-2 will disappear any time soon, and the same policies might likewise be applied in future epidemics and possibly in other crises. It is naïve to assume that this pandemic is a “once in a lifetime” event as epidemics and pandemics occur regularly and their probability only rises with a growing world population of humans and livestock, life expectancy and mobility. Yet no prior pandemic has led to a politically enforced disruption of every aspect of our social lives: Not the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 and 1969, not the much deadlier Spanish Flu between 1918 and 1920, not the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic. The reaction to SARS-CoV-2 was by all measures extraordinary and we should be cautious to accept lockdowns as the “new normal” in reacting to natural threats.
Stay-at-home orders, as well as other severe limitations of fundamental rights, were imposed in March 2020 without any proper assessment of their costs and benefits. There was no “clinical trial”, and governments didn’t perform a proper estimation of costs and benefits of these measures in March 2020. Instead, the prediction of overloaded hospitals and collapsing health systems, based on epidemiological simulations, has led governments all over the world to ban their populations from leaving their homes.
Stay-at-home restrictions have differed significantly between countries along various dimensions: Some only applied at certain times (e.g. at night), in certain locations (e.g. communities with a high caseload), or for certain groups (e.g. the elderly). Another crucial difference between different countries’ regulations is which “good reasons” justified leaving one’s home. One of the main questions this project wants to address is whether a policy allowed people to go out and take a walk at any time. The focus on reasons why people were allowed to go out under different stay-at-home order is what sets this project apart from other policy trackers.
My dataset on stay-at-home orders is purely descriptive and does not want to imply any value judgements in itself, but my motivation for this project is that I am convinced that no one should be required to present a “good reason” to be outside. I am cautious about keeping apart positive and normative statements, but this won’t always be possible. Note that almost any research published on the topic includes some implicit or explicit value judgements. For example, not everyone agrees that it should be governments’ responsibility to save citizens’ lives from natural forces, but this notion is so widely accepted that few people argue with anything that is promoted to “save lives”. This project aims to save lives, too, but for me, life is more than the avoidance of death.
Costs and benefits of lockdown policies remain disputed, but many countries have shown that lockdowns don’t come without an alternative. Many territories have never been under a stay-at-home order (e.g. all Nordic countries, Switzerland, Belarus, Croatia, most parts of Bulgaria and Estonia, some US states, Japan, Nicaragua, Tanzania,…) without experiencing a meltdown of their health systems. This list is much longer if we exclude the first wave of the pandemic. In the winter of 2020/21, among others, most of the United States, all Nordic countries, and parts of the Balkans (Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria) had no restrictions on leaving the house. Comparing the death toll in different countries yields no clear difference between countries with or without stay-at-home restrictions. With hindsight, we can see that stay-at-home orders at best had a small effect on outbreaks that was outweighed by other factors in cross-country comparisons. By the time societies decided to ban individuals from leaving their house, there was no evidence to support that this is an effective, let alone necessary, measure.
In 2021, many governments shifted away from limiting fundamental rights and freedoms universally and instead designed policies that discriminate based on vaccination status. This has not made it easier to have an open critical discussion about non-pharmaceutical interventions. In 2020, critical people like me were called “granny killers” or “covidiots” for daring to leave our homes. Today, hardly anyone seems to follow 2020 guidelines anymore. In Germany, many of the same people who tweeted #stayhome in 2020, flock to crowded bars and clubs the “unvaccinated” are banned from. Their messaging has completely shifted from “stay home” and “keep a distance” to “get vaccinated”. Instead of covidiots, we’re being called anti-vaxers now. This shift of the public debate on restrictions often misses to address the continuity of restrictions. Vaccine passport systems such as “2G” in Germany that ban unvaccinated people from restaurants, “inessential” shops etc., or stay-at-home restrictions for unvaccinated people such as in Austria and parts of Germany would likely have never been introduced if it wasn’t for earlier policies that banned everyone from eating out or leaving their home. The rationale for the effectiveness of policies such as 2G is at least as weak as it was for total lockdowns and the case for their necessity to prevent the collapse of hospitals is even weaker in a population with widespread protection from vaccination or prior infection. Lockdowns have lowered the bar for democratic governments to impose authoritarian measures that severely inflict fundamental rights and micro-manage their citizens’ private lives. Unlike vaccines, measures such as stay-at-home orders, curfews, mask mandates, or vaccine mandates haven’t gone through a clinical trial before they were introduced. Yet, serious side effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions don’t affect one in hundreds or even thousands, but large parts of the population. In other words: If lockdowns were a vaccine, they would have never been approved.
Note that even stay-at-home orders that allowed for unlimited outdoor activities implied that law enforcement officers were always able to stop people and ask for their reasons for being outside. The acceptance of these policies have set a precedent that has fundamentally changed the relationship between society and individual, state and citizen. The view that you could need “a good reason” or even “a reasonable excuse” to be outside is perhaps the most drastic cultural shift in post-war Europe. Unfortunately, neither the underlying paradigms nor the consequences of this new post-individualist culture have received the attention they deserve. In my opinion, being outside is a good reason in itself and needs no excuse. Fundamental rights such as the freedom of movement should apply universally. You have a good reason no matter what. Your well-being is a good reason. You are a good reason.
So far, A Good Reason is a one man project, but I am open for further contributors. Several new groups have formed in opposition to “lockdown” measures in the past 2 years, both in the realms of politics and research. There are numerous smaller initiatives skeptical of or opposed to mask mandates and vaccine mandates. I am not aware however, of any initiative whose main focus are restrictions on movement. With your help, A Good Reason might become an advocate for the freedom to go out and take a breathe of fresh air.