Edinburgh Infectious Diseases
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The science of quarantine and the social life of COVID-19

A summary of Aphaluck Bhatiasevi's presentation at the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 workshop.

The narratives around the COVID-19 pandemic are broad and varied, including healthcare, political, economic and social perspectives. These narratives have been fluid, changing rapidly as the situation has evolved. For example, when the communist Chinese government implemented strict lockdowns, first in Wuhan (a city of 11 million people) and then in wider regions, the action was met with scepticism by many outside of China. As the outbreak spread in other countries, however, similar lockdowns have now been implemented outside of China, in most liberal and republican countries.

We will all be experiencing the pandemic, and its various lockdowns and quarantines differently in different parts of the world. On a macro level, our experiences will depend on our relationship with our government, our access to healthcare, and our access to basic daily needs, such as food and water.

On a micro level, our experiences will depend on our relationship with our families and friends, and on our living situation. In some households, relationships might be positively affected by lockdowns, whilst in others they might be negatively affected. The fear of the unknown, and the uncertainty of the situation will influence our daily lives.

Lockdown or quarantine cannot be a long-term solution to an epidemic, given the economic and sociological implications. A study of 129 people who were quarantined for an average of 10 days during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Canada showed that 28.9% later experienced symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, whilst 31.2% experienced symptoms of depression [1]. In addition, there is historical precedent of minority populations being more negatively affected by quarantines. Periods of quarantine should therefore be as short as possible.

Lockdown or quarantine is not the solution, it just buys us time to prepare to deal with the pandemic. It is never too late to consider the wider sociological effects of lockdowns and quarantines, both positive and negative, in different localities and social groups experiencing them.

Watch Aphaluck's talk 


[1] Hawryluck, L., et al., SARS control and psychological effects of quarantine, Toronto, Canada. Emerging infectious diseases, 2004. 10(7): p. 1206-1212.