Understanding the concept of Quarantine

Understanding the concept of Quarantine

16 June 2020 - What we witness today is one for the history books. Coronavirus has the world united, yet separated in the fight against the pandemic. We hear the word "isolation" and it never coincides with the social nature of man. We almost always mentally end up dreading the concept. But how did the world know to take this united approach almost instantly? The history of Quarantine is something we must visit to understand how social distancing has saved some of our lives today.

Quarantine means observing restrictions from movement and of people to prevent the transfer of communicable infections and diseases. The word comes from the word "quarantena", meaning "40 days" in the Venetian language. Quarantine as a practice has existed way before it was given a name. The process of isolation of an infected patient from the healthy or following social distancing norms to prevent getting infected from others is a necessary measure for as long as infections have existed in the world. Leprosy, Black Death, Bubonic Plagues, epidemics, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis etc are such infections that the world has resorted to in the past and continue to do so to prevent spreading germs. Isolation centres, docked ships, quarantine facilities, separate wards, countries going into lockdown, sanitisation measures etc are how the world has dealt with pandemics in the past. The duration of Quarantine depends on the time it takes for an infection to manifest, for surrounding infected persons to recover/succumb, and for the whole surge to pass. Currently, many countries have resorted to this practice in the wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Historically, embracing quarantine and isolation measures to fight infections and illnesses dates back to medieval times and in spite of limited medical knowledge as compared to the advancement today, it was understood that contagion measures were to be implemented to control the spread of such plagues and virus.
�They knew that you had to be very careful with goods that are being traded, because the disease could be spread on objects and surfaces, and that you tried your best to limit person-to-person contact,� says Jane Stevens Crawshaw, a senior lecturer in early modern European history at Oxford Brookes University.

Historical references like those in times of medieval Islam and Biblical times depict how the society in the olden times regulated the spread of dangerous diseases.
Understanding the importance of isolation came with its own challenges. It was probably not easy to curtail and defeat the virus but a sense of order was established with establishing quarantine. The duration of quarantine was hinged by the time required to fight the disease. Though each pandemic has wiped out a chunk of the population each time, quarantine measures helped control the escalation majorly. Black Death or the Bubonic Plague (1347-1351) had wiped out close to 200million people, followed by 4o million lives lost due to Spanish Flu (1918-1919), HIV AIDS still continues to claim lives mounting to 25-35 million till this day. A loss to humanity is a loss nonetheless.

Adapting to a sequestered lifestyle was not smooth for a lot of countries, sectors and individuals. An enforced decision imposed by authorities is almost always debated, questioned, objected and altered. Those not in favour of Quarantine argue that it has led to more issues. Panic has taken over the sanity of people and leads them to react irrationally, overstock and insensitivity to the lesser fortunate is the result. Another side-effect of incomplete information about the purpose of quarantine is racism. Wuhan, China is reportedly the epicentre of the outbreak, this has led to reports of violence, unjust discrimination against the Chinese community in other countries. Similar reports of bigotry against communities have been cited globally.

Governments have imposed lockdown on businesses, flights, trade, mobility and academic institutions, public events and gatherings and in turn have subjected the citizens into de facto quarantine. Protests around the USA predominantly and many European countries consider Quarantine a restriction of their rights. Arguments over fascism, socialism, pharmaceutical industries, government authorities are the common man's acumen to the bigger problem. The argument over constraints and plight of the citizens as opposed to the government's answerability toward their medical and financial provisions is being questioned constantly.

Not to forget, Quarantine today is easier with the internet. All previous diseases/pandemics/illnesses were primarily without any of 'privileges' of today. The mental trauma, sexual or domestic violence, challenges of daily-wagers, working-class, trauma suicides are a tragic, common phenomenon throughout time. The predicament of anything massive on the common man is detrimental.

To conclude, the resolution to observe Quarantine in countries, cities and our homes is one step to surviving an outbreak. Medical advancements and technological upgrade along with self-sufficiency of countries are to be paid attention to. To really overcome turbulent times, there has to be an organised, planned effort by the government and international organisations comprising of medical facilities and adequate testing measures, a comfortable system where the poor does not always suffer. Adequate measures to educate the masses, communication with the civilians, financial budgeting and management of resources for consolidated progress of nations is dire. Quarantine measures seem like the most unified approach to isolated problem-solving for today's race towards the survival of the fittest.

Maryam Syed