Quarantine: a case study

venningBroadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2017

Genre: Sport commentary, discussion

URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/101715

During the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London an outbreak of norovirus amongst the competitors raised an interesting case study regarding the rights and wrongs of quarantine.

On Monday 7th August, Botswana sprinter Isaac Makwala withdrew from the 200 metres heats citing illness. The following day he turned up at the stadium to compete in the 400 metres final, to find that his accreditation had been revoked on the grounds that he was still within the time period when he needed to be in isolation to avoid infecting other people.

A confusing evening of claim and counterclaim culminated in Pam Venning, Head of Medicine for the IAAF, appearing in the stadium studio being grilled by host Gabby Logan and former athletes Paula Radcliffe, Denise Lewis and Michael Johnson about the decision to ban Makwala (and the way that communication had been handled).

This clip (just over 15 minutes) could be a useful resource for examining the tensions between personal autonomy and public health in the context of infectious diseases. As Onora O’Neill notes in her book Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics, restricting the movement of someone on grounds that they are a potential health risk to others is one of the classic examples that personal autonomy is not a universal right in the way that is sometimes portrayed.

Whilst Dr Venning outlines the epidemiological rationale for keeping infected athletes, including Makwala, away from the other competitors, the former athletes in the studio display their empathy for the sprinter; he’s been training for this, he says he’s ok today, so why can’t he compete?

A news item about the case (broadcast on BBC1 at about the same time as the studio discussion above) can be reached via this link https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/101736

If you have longer to get into the issues associated with quarantine, I recommend the Belgian series Cordon or, if you can’t cope with the sub-titles in the original, with the inferior American copy Containment.