The coronavirus has affected nearly 200 countries around the world, infecting 468,905 people and killing 21,200. China, where the first case of COVID-19 was reported, has 81,285 cases; 3,287 total deaths, and 74,051 recovered patients. The country is followed by Italy, which has the second most reported number of cases with 74,386; the US with 66,048; Spain with 49,515; Germany with 37,323, and Iran with 27,017.
These numbers have surpassed the number of infected people by SARS, a coronavirus that originated from Beijing, China, from November 2002 to July 2003. It spread to 29 countries and resulted in 8,096 people infected with 774 deaths (fatality rate of 9.6%). Worldometers.info reported that SARS ended up infecting 5,237 people in mainland China, while Chinese officials confirmed 5,974 cases of COVID-19 on January 29, 2020.
Considering these figures, COVID-19 can infect hundreds of thousands of people if not contained. China was forced to restrict personal movements, public events, and business activities of its people in Wuhan first, the megacity and global epicenter of the coronavirus. But, the virus already spread across nearby cities, thus, the lockdown was later widened to more than a dozen other cities in Hubei Province -- the largest quarantine in human history.
According to Business Insider, a fast-growing business site with deep financial, media, tech, and other industry verticals, China locked down 15 other cities, including Huanggang, a city of 7.5 million people, and Suizhou, which is home to almost 11 million. The World Health Organization stated that these containment measures have prevented many more cases of COVID-19. "There's no question that China's bold approach to the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of what was a rapidly escalating and continues to be a deadly epidemic," Bruce Aylward, a Canadian doctor and epidemiologist who was recently sent to China as part of a delegation to inspect its containment efforts, said.
Quarantines Across the World
However, the virus is extremely contagious as it has rapidly spread across the world in just a short time. Recent reports show that more than a third of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown now, following the WHO’s announcement that officially declared the outbreak pandemic. The organization has called on "all countries to continue efforts that have been effective in limiting the number of cases and slowing the spread of the virus."
Lindsay Wiley, a health law professor at the Washington College of Law, explained that a lockdown can refer to anything from mandatory geographic quarantines to non-mandatory recommendations to stay at home, closures of certain types of businesses, or bans on events and gatherings. The UK recently went into full coronavirus lockdown, where citizens will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential work, exercise, and purchasing food or medicine.
At the same time, the country banned gatherings of more than two people. "From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction — you must stay at home," Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Belgium also imposed a lockdown to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said at a news briefing that residents' travel will be limited to "essential" visits to supermarkets, pharmacies, and banks or for cases of emergency. France banned public gatherings and walks outside, only allowing them to go outside if necessary and to buy only essential groceries.
"We have seen too many people in cafes and restaurants. In usual times, this would make me happy. Because this is the France we all love. But for a few weeks, this is not what we should be doing," Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said.
India, China, France, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, and the UK have already implemented the world's largest and most restrictive mass quarantines. Many countries have also done the same thing, forcing citizens to just stay at home and minimize physical contact with other people.
Impacts of Quarantine
Governments are using quarantines to stop the spread of contagious diseases. This keeps them away from others so they don’t unknowingly infect anyone. However, previous studies have shown that medical quarantine and isolation, in general, are associated with serious mental health effects. A recent study published in The Lancet discovered that quarantine is linked with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, confusion, and anger.
According to France24, an online site that covers breaking news and world news, the researchers based their findings on 24 studies previously carried out in 10 countries that have quarantined parts of their populations after the outbreak of deadly viruses. This includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola, H1N1 influenza (swine flu), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and equine influenza (horse flu). They found out that more than 20% of people of the people quarantined after having been in close contact with suspected SARS cases reported having feelings of fear, 18% felt nervous, 18% were sad, and 10% were guilty.
Another study also revealed that people quarantined for longer than 10 days “showed significantly higher post-traumatic stress symptoms” compared to those who were isolated for a shorter time. “Quarantine is often an unpleasant experience for those who undergo it. Separation from loved ones, the loss of freedom, uncertainty over disease status and boredom can, on occasion, create dramatic effects,” the researchers said.
According to Quartz, a business-focused English-language international news organization, prolonged periods in isolated situations can push people to turn inward. Frank McAndrew, an evolutionary psychologist at Knox College in Illinois, stated that quarantines that have been forced to people are particularly distressing. “Being quarantined gives one a sense of being at the mercy of other people and other uncontrollable forces such as an epidemic. This leads to a feeling of helplessness and uncertainty about the future that can be very unsettling,” he said.
The isolation imposed by quarantine often has people feeling that they have no control over the situation. Our mental health status could even be worsened by stressors associated with quarantine, including infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, lack of information, financial loss and stigma associated with contracting the disease. The American Psychological Association reported that it can carry several health risks such as poor sleep, poor cardiovascular health, lower immunity, depressive symptoms, and impaired executive function.
To combat these, experts recommend creating a routine, taking care of your body, helping others, staying connected, limiting media intake, and more. “Stay in contact with people — virtually — engage in activities that give you pleasure and a sense of meaning, and do what you can to help others, which is a remarkable antidote to depression,” medical expert Michael Friedman, associate professor at Columbia School of Social Work in New York, said.