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How to overcome lockdown: selective isolation versus contact tracing
  1. Lucie White,
  2. Philippe van Basshuysen
  1. Institut für Philosophie, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Hannover, Niedersachsen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lucie White, Institut für Philosophie, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Hannover, Niedersachsen, Germany; lucie.white{at}


At this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, two policy aims are imperative: avoiding the need for a general lockdown of the population, with all its economic, social and health costs, and preventing the healthcare system from being overwhelmed by the unchecked spread of infection. Achieving these two aims requires the consideration of unpalatable measures. Julian Savulescu and James Cameron argue that mandatory isolation of the elderly is justified under these circumstances, as they are at increased risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19, and are thus likely to put disproportionate strain on limited healthcare resources. However, their arguments for this strategy are contingent on the lack of viable alternatives. We suggest that there is a possible alternative: a mandatory, centralised contact-tracing app. We argue that this strategy is ethically preferable to the selective isolation of the elderly, because it does not target members of a certain group, relying instead on the movements of each individual, and because it avoids the extended isolation of certain members of the society. Although this type of contact-tracing app has its drawbacks, we contend that this measure warrants serious consideration.

  • public policy
  • coercion
  • elderly and terminally ill
  • emergency medicine
  • ethics
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  • Contributors Both authors contributed to the conception, drafting and revision of the manuscript.

  • Funding This research was funded in part by the Volkswagen Foundation within the project ‘Bias and Discrimination in Big Data and Algorithmic Processing: Philosophical Assessments, Legal Dimensions, and Technical Solutions.’

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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

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