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With Kim Harwell
ZWN's special report correspondant

If Jamaica Is Quarantined, What Will it Really Mean?
Posted May. 4th. 2014, ZWN editorial


Quarantine, or 'disease containment' as some government spin doctors prefer to call it, is considered by most responsible governments to be a last resort, short of a nuclear option. It is only used on Category Level 'A' zombie outbreaks.

So why are we talking quarantine proposals for Jamaica? It seems premature to say the least. Only week ago the Caribbean island and tropical tourist destination was enjoying its typically laid back existence. What a difference a week can make.

Following a sudden outbreak of necro-mortosis, islanders and tourists alike have fallen victim to the pandemic and reawakened as the living dead. Action has been swift. Great Britain, who is still the motherland to this commonwealth country has dispatched some 2500 soldiers, along with medical and yes...quarantine staff.

The Obama administration is now pushing the UN for annexation, an immediate quarantine, of the small island. However, less than 300 islanders have yet been affected. So what could such extreme measures mean for Jamaica as a whole?

Disease containment

Quarantine and isolation are the most complex and controversial of public health powers. Given that they involve a significant deprivation of an individual’s liberty in the name of public health, quarantine and isolation expose the tension between the interests of society in protecting the health of its citizens and the civil liberties of individuals, such as privacy, non-discrimination, freedom of movement, and freedom from arbitrary detention. Although these civil liberties are protected by both universal and regional human rights declarations and conventions, large-scale public health threats can require extraordinary measures by the government.

Presence of large scale armed forces

Any structured society, used to its civil liberties and freedom (such as Jamaica) will find it hard to adjust to the large scale presence of an army within its cities, towns, and villages. Road blocks, check points, curfews, surveillance. These are all unwelcome intrusions on any citizens life. These troops will be British, not UN forces. and although the two countries hold a close relationship to each other, the presence of these troops could understandably be seen as a foreign occupation.

Workplace and School Closings

Workplace and school closings present particularly difficult ethical issues. Workplaces are vital to the livelihoods of both employers and employees, so closing them can cause severe financial hardships. In extreme cases, lost profits caused by closings may push companies to go out of business, leading to job losses and other economic hardships. Even for people who have an economic safety net, these problems can have a significant effect, but for people living at a subsistence level the effect of lost income can be far worse. If workplaces stay closed for a significant amount of time, such people may be unable to pay for shelter, food, or medicine. Similar issues are raised by school closings, which may require parents to stay at home in order to care for young children.


Decreased Social Mixing/Increased Social Distance

Past experience shows that one consistent response to epidemics has been to decrease social mixing and increase social distance by such means as community restrictions and voluntary social separation. There is some limited evidence that school closings do reduce mortosis transmission, and it is assumed—although not proven—that other limits on social mixing also slow the spread of the undead virus. Thus societies faced with pandemics have often closed public places (schools, childcare, workplaces, mass transit) and canceled public events (sports, arts, conferences). As fear rises, the public itself may shun public gatherings. Predicting the effect of policies to increase social distance is difficult, as infected persons and their contacts may be displaced into other settings, and individuals may voluntarily separate in response to perceived risk


Provision of Necessities

If people are instructed to avoid public places, such as markets, stores, and pharmacies, or if those places are required to close, there will be a need for people to procure food, medicine, and other necessities in some other way. Similarly, shutting down mass transit may prevent people from being able to get to those facilities that do remain open, and it could prevent some people from being able to seek medical care. Such a situation also raises distributive-justice concerns since those people with the least resources will be least likely to be able to procure additional resources before closings occur. This could lead to the rise of 'magpies' people who sell their service of high risk procurement in zombie hot zones.

International Travel and Border Controls

Transnational public health law has become increasingly important in global health, but controls placed on international travel can infringe upon civil liberties. The freedom of movement is a basic right protected by national laws and international treaties, but it is subject to limits when necessary for the public’s health. In particular, some of these limits can present serious risks to privacy. For example, zombie containment measures may require the travel industry to collect and disclose passenger data. Such infringements on privacy rights can be justified only if there is a genuine need to obtain high-quality surveillance data. To avoid discrimination and to ensure proportionality, public health officials should inform the affected individuals about the reasons for the infringement, the intended use of the information, and the extent to which third parties can have access to the data.

Isolation and Quarantine

Isolation and quarantine are two of the oldest disease-control methods in existence and would likely be used in at least some instances during an undead pandemic. While the terms “quarantine,” “isolation,” and “disease containment” are often used interchangeably, they are, in fact, distinct. The modern definition of quarantine is the restriction of the activities of asymptomatic persons who have been exposed to a communicable disease, such as, in this case, necro-mortosis. In contrast, isolation is the separation, for the period of communicability, but as we all know, in the case of necro-mortosis contamination, there is no 'recovery.'


and so, in conclusion

Preparing for a large scale undead pandemic forces society to face a number of difficult challenges, many of which transcend the issue of mere scientific effectiveness. Public health emergencies raise serious ethical issues which are central to society’s commitment to freedom and social justice. Even when effective, public health interventions can have serious adverse consequences on economic and civil liberties. It is vital that individual rights are only sacrificed when absolutely necessary to protect the public’s health. As such, laws must clearly establish the criteria under which governments can exercise emergency powers. These laws must also provide adequate due process and ensure that any infringements on individual rights are minimized.

The threat of a necro-mortosis pandemic is real. If the threat manifests itself, millions of lives will be lost. Such widespread death would be catastrophic, but the tragedy would be even worse if society ignores the ethical issues discussed above. It is crucial that society decide as soon as possible how it wants to respond to these ethical concerns so that in the event of a pandemic in Jamaica, or anywhere else for that matter, we are equipped—scientifically as well as ethically—to deal with its impact.

Special recognition to: Institute of Medicine (US) Forum on Microbial Threats.
Washington (DC), and the Center For Necro-Mortosis Studies Washington (DC).

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