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COVID-19 conscience tracing: mapping the moral distances of coronavirus
  1. David Shaw1,2
  1. 1 Health, Ethics and Society, Care and Public Health Research Institute, Maastricht University Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht, Limburg, The Netherlands
  2. 2 Institute for Biomedical Ethics, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Shaw, Health, Ethics and Society, Maastricht University Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht 6229 ER, Limburg, The Netherlands;{at}


One of the many problems posed by the collective effort to tackle COVID-19 is non-compliance with restrictions. Some people would like to obey restrictions but cannot due to their job or other life circumstances; others are not good at following rules that restrict their liberty, even if the potential consequences of doing so are repeatedly made very clear to them. Among this group are a minority who simply do not care about the consequences of their actions. But many others fail to accurately perceive the harms that they might be causing. One of the main reasons for this is that the harms done by transmitting COVID-19 to someone else are morally distant from the agent, particularly in cases where infection is asymptomatic. In this paper, I describe seven different aspects of moral distance in the context of COVID-19, explore how they affect (lack of) motivation to obey restrictions, and suggest several ways in which such moral distance can be reduced — primarily through enhanced-contact tracing that makes it clear to individuals and the public precisely who they could be harming and how.

  • COVID-19
  • public health ethics
  • social aspects
  • public policy

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  • Contributors DS is the sole author.

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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