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19 Covid Thoughts #7

A Thought on Quarantine


The first systematic use of the idea and word quarantine comes from Ragusa -or Dubrovnik as it is known now - when it was under the control of the city-state of Venice during the Plague. The Italian phrase quaranta giorni, or “forty days” was the length of time Venice required ships and people to wait on a nearby island before they were permitted to enter the port city. In a document dated to 1377, it is clearly stated that all persons and goods into had to wait a trentina, or 30 days, before entering the city. Shortly thereafter, the isolation period was extended to 40 days, and a new word came into common usage.


I wonder did they change it so it echoes other biblical ideas of purging: Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness being tempted by the devil; the great flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights; the Jewish people wandered the desert for 40 years.



In the year 1665, the village of Eyam was infected with the plague. A bale of cloth sent from London contained a damp cloth with fleas carrying the plague. None of the villages around it were affected, which created a conundrum: how to contain the infection while still getting the food and supplies the community needed to survive. The entire village opted to quarantine itself. Indoor church service were suspended, families buried their own dead, no one could to neighbouring towns.The people pledged to keep themselves quarantined as long as the neighbouring communities would drop off food and supplies at a designated spot. For 14 months, no one entered or left Eyam. While the disease didn’t spread beyond the borders of the town, it did kill at least half of the population.

On Saturday, we broke our quarantine and had a socially distanced retirement party for Julian. Before leaving we all hugged. It was Julians first physical contact in 3 months. I think it was a strange experience for all of us. What will be the lasting physical and psychological effects of our quarantine?

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© Eoghan Carrick | Dublin, Ireland | eoghan.carrick@gmail.com