So, you need to imagine a drunk driver who could harm not just one or a few people but dozens, each of whom could then unknowingly spread the contagion still further. Now multiply that possibility by all the millions of people who, thanks to their stubborn individualism, may soon become the epidemiological equivalent of drunk drivers and you can begin to grasp the magnitude of what we may soon confront.
It may be inapt and somewhat tendentious to compare the struggle against COVID-19 to a war, but there is at least one respect in which the comparison holds. A war and a pandemic both threaten the political community. Not just the good of atomistic individuals within the community but the good of the nation as a whole is at stake. That requires a national response, one that calls out for and requires restrictions on personal freedom for the sake of the entire polity. How long those restrictions need to remain in place isn’t a function of how annoying, frustrating, or even economically painful they are for individuals. It’s a function of the need to contain the deadly virus — just as the duration of the hardships of war is determined by the shape of the battle and the imperative of victory. In both cases, neglecting to do what is necessary to prevail deserves to be judged a gravely serious failure of responsibility.
Countries in which citizens are inculcated with a sense of the common good will respond responsibly to coronavirus threat — by, for example, setting up, paying for, implementing, and accepting the hassles involved in a rigorous testing and tracing program. That’s the one thing that could have allowed us to begin easing lockdowns without risking a serious spike in new infections and deaths.