Slap on the wrist?

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Slap on the wrist?

The government is mulling the idea of strapping electronic wristbands on people under self-quarantine orders because they have been exposed to the coronavirus and may infect others.

The digital wristband would allow authorities to keep tabs on those under watch and could be effective in preventing the risk of further spreading the virus. But the idea also stokes concerns about violations of the human rights of the wearers.

The Covid-19 task force said in a regular briefing on Tuesday it was studying the option of employing digital wristbands on those under self-quarantine orders after several ignored the orders and roamed around their areas. As of Monday, 46,566 people are under isolation orders.

The number could reach 80,000 to 90,000. Those under isolation orders were required to activate an app on their phones that alerts authorities if they venture outside. But some nevertheless went out after leaving their smartphones at home. The GPS wristband under study is connected to smartphones.

The government admits there is a negative perception of electronic wristbands. They resemble the ankle bracelets worn by paroled criminals. Moreover, such a move could be legally challenged as there are no provisions for monitoring devices in the infectious disease laws.

The measure could be considered forced even if the individual agrees to wear one. Apart from Hong Kong, no states impose such restrictions. The act is not consistent with the government’s voluntary quarantine policy so far.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office warned that anyone violating self-quarantine orders could face jail time. It vowed to arrest people who “intentionally” and “repeatedly” break their quarantines. So far, 75 people face criminal charges for violating self-quarantines. Such a strong verbal warning should be enough for now.

To avoid unnecessary force, individuals must exercise civic responsibility. Freedom always comes with responsibility. The government should keep the wristband option as a last resort. It could set a bad precedent on human rights.

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