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Illustration by Security Management

Unrest Over Coronavirus Response Spreads

Civil unrest and defiance of stay home orders are spreading in the United States as the response to the coronavirus becomes increasingly politicized across the nation.

In Michigan, officials closed the State Capitol and cancelled a legislative session as hundreds of protestors—many carrying weapons—demonstrated in front of the building. In Pennsylvania, some Republican lawmakers have encouraged nonessential businesses to open.

In Wisconsin, a conservative state supreme court overruled a stay home order implemented by a Democratic administration. In a four to three ruling, the court said the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary—Andrea Palm—violated state law by issuing a statewide order prohibiting residents from leaving their homes unless it was for an essential purpose.

“Democratic governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, backed by public health experts, have urged caution before reopening,” according to The New York Times. “Republican legislatures in the states have pushed in the opposite direction, citing economic necessity and personal freedom.”

Similar acts of defiance are taking place elsewhere in the United States, including Texas where armed protestors are keeping patrol outside of businesses that have reopened in defiance of state health restrictions.

“I think it should be a business’s right if they want to close or open,” said Philip Archibald, one of the protestors helping an East Texas tattoo shop stay open, in an interview with the Times. “What is coming to arrest a person who is opening their business according to their constitutional rights? That’s confrontation.”

While the armed protests are getting large amounts of media coverage in the United States, similar demonstrations are occurring around the world, said Paul Mercer, managing director of HawkSight Security Risk Management Ltd, in an interview with Security Management Highlights.

Mercer has been analyzing situations of unrest in Brazil, Germany, and France, where violent protests took place in the Paris suburbs that some say were spurred on by “heavy-handed policing.”

“The initiation of those protests is the impact of extended quarantine. And in many cases, protestors are demonstrating against government-enforced lock down measures,” Mercer said. “The driver that then goes on from there…is how does the government and security forces respond to that?”

In a recent report, COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch, The International Crisis Group (ICG) discussed how the impact of the coronavirus and nations’ response could cause political destabilization and civil unrest.

“The pandemic has already spurred social unrest in many places, and this could become a significant destabilizing force in some countries if it continues to grow,” according to previous Security Management coverage. “For example, in Colombia there have been incidents in which angry looters attacked food trucks in route to poverty-stricken Venezuela. Roughly two-dozen people were killed in a jailbreak attempt amid prisoner protests regarding lack of protections against COVID-19.”

The ICG also warned that some leaders may use the coronavirus pandemic to issue restrictive measures to quash dissent—even after the crisis is over.

For instance, “Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has requested that parliament indefinitely extend a pandemic state of emergency that calls for five-year prison sentences for anyone disseminating false information or obstructing the country’s crisis response,” Security Management reports. “Opponents of the move say it turns a public health measure into an unlawful power grab.”