No, not Kung Flu, the “everything is racist” virus, (yes, I’m aware “Kung Flu” could be said to be racist, but it’s still funny).
Here’s an academic hot take on “whither quarantine?” in response to COVID19. Spoiler alert; you’re racist.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin:
The effectiveness of quarantines, however, is doubtful, raising the question of what value there is to quarantines if it’s not public health.
Said nobody on the uninfected side of a quarantine barrier, ever.
There is political value in the quarantine for those who implicitly believe biological-racial purity is a condition of health…
There’s also value to those who believe not catching a dangerous virus is a condition of health. Which group is the larger, do you think?
For some, the quarantine rationalizes xenophobia and calls for ethnonationalist separation.
Who are these people and why haven’t I heard any of their “calls for ethnonationalist separation”?
Drawing on a long history of anti-Chinese sentiment, the Australian government has prohibited the entry of noncitizens from China and proposed to transport Australian citizens—many of whom will have traveled to China to celebrate the New Year with relatives—directly into a period of confinement at the immigration detention center on Christmas Island.
Which is an interesting way of saying, “they were medically evacuated, at great risk to the airline crew and taxpayer’s expense, from China to a safe but contained part of Australia. You’re welcome“.
The effect of these policies on some 200,000 students (a proportion of whom are returning from China for the new academic year in Australia) is unclear but will be enormous.
As enormous as the consequences of a national infection? Oh, they’ll just have to postpone a term? That enormous.
As with the extralegal approach pursued by the Australian government…
Extralegal? Do you have any references to cite to back that up? I’ll wait.
These practices highlight what Howard Markel describes as “quarantine’s aggressive potential for harm.” The harm is—as Markel suggested in his history of the treatment of East European Jewish immigrants in New York at the end of the 19th century—exacerbated for those who happen to find themselves on the “other” side of a quarantine border; its spread cannot be restricted along those lines because a virus is neither synonymous with a group of persons nor can it be identified by a passport.
Right, so quarantine is really bad for those on the infected side of the barrier. What would be the corollary of that, do we think? Bueller, anyone?
Read the next paragraph closely:
Measures other than quarantine have been found much more effective in preventing widespread contagion. In a lengthy review of the research on the comparative effectiveness of a number of measures (short of vaccines and antiviral drugs) to prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses—screening at entry ports, medical isolation, quarantine, social distancing, barriers, personal protection, and hand hygiene—the use of surgical masks and regular handwashing emerged as the most consistently effective set of physical interventions.
Anyone spot the problem?
In any event, expenditure and focus on quarantine restrictions tend to represent a redirection of resources away from measures likely to be more effective in both the immediate and longer term.
So what you’re saying is, I should catch the virus because the survivors will get the vaccine quicker? I’m not liking that deal as much as I think you want me to, to be honest with you.
SECOND, the resort to quarantines draws on the biological-racial understanding of nations as discrete organic entities and prevents or displaces a social understanding of health and disease.
Or it’s just a rational response to not wanting to get sick?
It is however doubtful that humans could have evolved without the species-jumping, recombinant action of bacterial genetics transmitted through viral infections. More to the point, all vaccines involve the modified administration of an infection, and immunization is only effective at the largest (rather than national) population scales.
Are there any other events that happened half a billion years ago we should factor into our public health policy decisions in 2020?
…the privatization of health care and the socialization of ill-health remains largely ignored as a contributing factor in both infection and mortality rates.
She’s talking about China, that champion of the free market in all aspects of life. No, really.
China’s decentralized, commercially oriented health system and the lack of health-care coverage have, in all likelihood, worsened the impact of any single disease…
Yes, I miss Chairman Mao too. He’d have known what to do. Probably shoot everyone in Wuhan, but at least they wouldn’t be sick.
THIRD, therefore the combination of the declared emergency, quarantine confinement, and lower regulatory standards significantly diminishes the cost of human drug trials and inflates the value of and market for patented drugs.
What? A lowering of the cost to trial new drugs increases the value of the drugs? (Flicks through every economic text book known to man)…. erm, how do you draw that conclusion?
As it happens, the Australian government has required anyone interned at Christmas Island to sign a waiver—presumably one that indemnifies the government and the private contractors who manage the facility in the event that internment results in infection or other health issues.
In which the author demonstrates magical powers of remote vision.
In other words, the quarantine on Christmas Island will be little more than a means of observing people who are confined for the average time that it takes COVID19 to incubate—if, that is, the virus is present among those detained.
And then draws a conclusion based on the magic remote document reading.
Here comes the finale, Le Grand Salade des Mots:
By way of a summary, this recent history of quarantine measures does not exactly replicate the cordon sanitaire of earlier centuries. The practical importance of virology in the development of the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries means that quarantine zones are not outside circuits of value, even while the quarantine acts as a means of segregation. The contemporary quarantine represents a merger between the authoritarian governance of populations and the facilitation and growth of private, selective health-care infrastructure. Given the importance of nonselectivity and scale to public health, nationalist approaches to health are more accurately described as a way of privatizing public health by other means.
No, I don’t have a fucking clue what that means either.
Angela Mitropoulos is a political theorist. Mitropoulos is a fellow at the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University, Sydney.
Btw, I’m not sure how many Nobel laureates WSU has produced but the winners hold their annual dinner in a phone box on Pitcairn Island every 2nd February 29th.
I’m thinking “virologist”, “emergency ward doctor”, “mathematician” and “economist” would be the best disciplines to determine responses to pandemics.
“Hi, emergency services? My kids have severe upper respiratory problems, get me a political theorist here as soon as you can”.