The topic of forced quarantine currently comes from the recent worldwide SARS outbreak which is believed to have originated somewhere in China.
An April 26, 2003, Guardian Unlimited report by John Gittings in Shanghai related that SARS suspects were "being victimised in Beijing, where thousands" had been placed in "compulsory quarantine," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Wolfgang Preiser, a German virologist, told reporters that, "If you make it hell for them, they go into hiding ... It is a bit of an over-reaction. Health officials must know how to draw a balance and stop victimising people unnecessarily."
A Beijing, China, health official admitted that "his department had ordered 4,000 people" who had had "'intimate contact' with suspected Sars cases to stay at home under quarantine." These "new regulations" applied to "hospitals, factories, hotels, schools, residential blocks and anywhere else where the virus is found." The consequence for those who disobeyed the compulsory quarantine would be "severe punishment." However, the possible means of punishment itself was not discussed.
Anthrax 2002: Biological Weapons Attack & Response Options
On the topic of what to do if there was "a biological weapons attack," Dr. Gregory Saathoff, an associate professor of research and the executive director of the University of Virginia Medical School's Critical Incident Analysis Group, shared information on October 18, 2002, from a recently released 60-page report on "how to best respond to a bioterrorist attack."
The first response would be to simply stay home and wait until word arrives that it is safe to leave. "Running in panic will only increase the chance of becoming infected and further spread the disease," the report said.
Richard Bonnie, a law professor at the University and the report's co-author, said that "the idea of voluntary quarantining," which is called community shielding, "doesn't really work unless localities have thought about it ahead of time." Community shielding would require local government to be prepared to provide communications, emergency services, food, and medical supplies under circumstances similar to that of "neighborhoods living as if snowbound."
Saathoff said that community shielding is considered a good option, since it will help to avoid "some of the problems associated with the conventional responses of evacuation or quarantine." In the event of a biological attack, especially with an infectious agent, evacuation is not necessarily a good option since it can "widen an epidemic" with the fleeing people becoming bioweapons.
A second option might be community immunization through mandated vaccination. However, vaccination programs could possibly be a source to spread sickness. This depends upon everyone agreeing to be immunized. Also, if immunization is an option, it could result in people, out of fear, mobbing immunization centers following a biological attack.
The third option is forced quarantine. However, according to Bonnie, this approach is "authoritarian and would probably require troops to enforce it."
Smallpox Bioterroism Attack: Canada 2003
On March 1, 2003, Mark Kennedy reported in the Ottawa Citizen that Canada's bioterror plan included martial law and forced quarantine: "A federal plan to respond to a bioterrorism smallpox attack includes provisions to suspend civil liberties under the Emergencies Act in order to contain the spread of the disease."
Tuberculosis 1993: New York City
In 1993, an outbreak of tuberculosis in New York City led to forced quarantine. Time reported:
- "People suffering from tuberculosis in New York City had better complete the full course of drug treatment if they want to retain their freedom. Plagued by too many patients who stop taking their medication after a few weeks rather than continuing for the six months to two years needed to achieve a cure, city health officials announced they will soon begin to confine the most recalcitrant patients in hospitals and long-term facilities. Detainees will have legal protections and be released when they finish therapy. Boston and Denver have adopted similar TB quarantines."
Related SourceWatch Resources
- Health Privacy Project web site.