Quarantine, the climate crisis, genetics and mysterious illnesses come under the microscope in this year’s highlights
Early in the pandemic it was the blunt tools of past centuries that saved the most lives.
Until Proven Safe, by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley (Picador), dives into the crudely effective and widely abused strategy of quarantine, the separation of those feared to be sick from those deemed healthy. The authors trace formal quarantine back to 14th-century Dubrovnik where, in response to the Black Death, visitors were ordered to spend a month in a nearby town or on an islet before entering the city.
The strategy caught on elsewhere but, despite keeping disease at bay, discrimination, inconvenience and miserable conditions hardly encouraged compliance. In one spectacular failure, a plague-infested ship evaded Sicilian quarantine and left 16,000 dead on the island. Examples range from the Apollo astronauts (quarantined in case they carried lunar germs) and the Covid pandemic to efforts to prevent a “chocpocalypse” by protecting the cacao plant.
With emerging diseases on the rise, quarantine is back for good, the authors warn, and it must be radically overhauled.