Intrusive measures can only be justified by expected added benefits
Curfews are frequently claimed to have proven effective in reducing infection rates in countries where they have been used. Nevertheless, a review of international literature in favour of curfew-type measures mainly identifies quantitative studies that give readers little insight into what the terms curfew, stay at home orders, strict lock down and home isolation actually mean in practice (6–9). Similar terms may have very different content. For example, home isolation, as used in one of the articles (8), seems to correspond to a kind of general curfew. This can hardly be compared with home isolation as used in the Norwegian context, where the term is associated with individuals required to self-isolate at home following a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result. In addition, when assessments have been made of specific cases of a curfew where the general public are forbidden to be in public areas during certain hours or at any time day or night, the curfew has always been combined with the intensification of other infection control measures. Therefore, it is impossible to tell whether stagnation or decline in infection is a result of the curfew or of other measures. In the above-mentioned literature, little or no information is provided about contextual factors of importance for infection transmission and infection control, such as demography, geography, sociocultural and socioeconomic factors, or local variations within the country. This also applies to the countries from which the Norwegian authorities have obtained information via its embassies (1).
The Norwegian Medical Association refutes the assertion that a curfew is an appropriate measure
What 'medical', or for that matter 'infection-control-related' grounds make curfews 'appear appropriate' as a supplement to already existing measures 'following an overall assessment' (see the Communicable Diseases Control Act)?
According to the authorities, the use of a curfew as a measure to control the pandemic is justified by medical knowledge that the virus is transmitted via human hosts in close proximity in time and space. A curfew thus aligns with the apparently endless list of infection control measures provided for in the Norwegian Communicable Diseases Control Act, aiming at preventing infection transmission by ensuring distance between potential carriers of the virus and new hosts – until the latter group have gained immunity through vaccination. However, in its consultation submission, the Norwegian Medical Association points out that it is primarily physical contact among humans that paves the way for infection, not simply being outdoors (10). Hence, the Norwegian Medical Association refutes the assertion that a curfew is an appropriate measure. The same conclusion is emphasised by several consultative bodies such as the Faculty of Law at UiT The Arctic University, Fredrikstad Municipality, Oslo Municipality, the Legal Policy Association, and the University of South-Eastern Norway (1). If relevant, medical advice advocating the use of a curfew must focus on the anticipated added benefits of this measure in comparison with less intrusive measures – and weigh these against negative side effects. High infection rates, and the fact that other measures are regarded as inadequate, are based on medical knowledge, but knowledge of the infection situation provides no professional, empirical, or scientific evidence that can justify the introduction of curfews.
In its consultation submission, the Norwegian Medical Association emphasises that both the introduction of legal authority for curfews and the implementation of curfews will serve to undermine the trust of the population – a fragile value that must be tended wisely (10). Likewise, the authorities must demonstrate prudence and intelligence in their utilization of medical knowledge when selecting and paving the way for appropriate infection control measures.