With Chinese authorities warning the coronavirus outbreak is accelerating, placing millions of people in more than a dozen Chinese cities under intense travel restrictions might seem like a good idea.
But historically a mass quarantine is an aggressive response that's far from perfect. In the past it has led to political, financial and social consequences.
Quarantines date back to Italy in the 1300s, as the bubonic plague ravaged Europe. In Venice, sailors and ships coming from infected ports were made to wait 40 days before docking in a practice called "quaranta giorni," or "40 days."
No quarantine goes perfectly: People criticize quarantines because in practice a virus or bacteria "invariably gets loose," as do people, said Howard Markel, professor and director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan.
Logistical issues: Just the word "quarantine" can cause panic or hysteria, Markel said. Anyone concerned about a common cold or sniffle will head for hospitals, straining already precious resources. Wuhan officials have already acknowledged local hospitals were struggling to accommodate people seeking medical attention.
Broader financial consequences: Quarantines "are often very economically and financially costly," said Alexandre White, an assistant professor of sociology and the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. The flow of trade in and out of the quarantined zone is halted, and goods in the process of being shipped could go bad -- depending on how long it lasts.
Social impacts: Historically, the aggressive control needed in a quarantine can link the disease to marginalized people and potentially fuel existing anxieties about race and class. There was a "long history of quarantine being misused as a social separator, rather than a public health one," Markel said.
Trust and cooperation are key: The trust and cooperation of the public is the most important thing for officials to have in a public health crisis, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization's Center on Global Health Law. Without it, people won't come in for testing and won't share the names of people they've been in contact with -- a vital part of the strategy to prevent the spread of disease.
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