Four countries attitudes toward quarantine use in health emergency
The experiences of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States are instructive in assessing national responses to disease threats.
By Robert J. Blendon, Catherine M. DesRoches, Martin S. Cetron, John M. Benson, Theodore Meinhardt and William Pollard
Countries worldwide face the global threat of newly emerging infectious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and pandemic influenza. These types of diseases can create serious problems for international and local public health authorities and health professionals: They can be highly contagious and can lead to death or serious illness. Such diseases also can have major economic impacts.1 These concerns are often heightened by the lack of proven vaccines or effective treatments for those who become infected. Thus, the importance of containing these diseases before widespread transmission occurs becomes a priority for public health policy and planning.2
Measures available to public health authorities around the world to control such epidemics include encouraging citizens to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of airborne illness, canceling public events or closing schools, isolating cases and quarantining contacts, monitoring and enforcing compliance, and screening for illness. In many countries, public health officials have the authority to make these measures compulsory.
To understand the public’s reaction to the possible use of widespread quarantine, we conducted a survey of residents of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore, where the use of quarantine for these purposes was widespread during the SARS epidemic, and residents of the United States, who have had very little recent experience with widespread quarantine. The survey was conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, in collaboration with researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with assistance from public health officials in the other countries or regions surveyed.