This paper aims to illustrate the tension between public health and civil liberties through the case study of the UK government’s emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the area of public health, this tension is predominantly approached by reference to two theories: liberalism and communitarianism. This paper studies these positions and how they are manifested in evidence-based policymaking by combining a study of public health policy with a study of public health ethics. The studies help demonstrate the UK government’s framing of health policy relating to Covid-19 in terms of liberalism and communitarianism. The paper concludes that in the initial UK government response to Covid-19, the government discourse evoked communitarian values and framed its policies as being evidence-led and as prioritising public health. However, the policy measures themselves manifested liberal values: they had the underlying concern of not infringing excessively on civil liberties, and individuals were given autonomy of decision making within the measures that were taken. The article concluded that emergency times require a communitarian response based on preventative action. This article is the first to combine public health policy with public health ethics to demonstrate how values form a key part of decision making.
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