Self-quarantine and lockdown: a part of Sri Lankan culture

Self-quarantine had been part of many cultures for many centuries and culture such as Balinese, European had some form of lockdown practices. Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka also had been using the practices of self-quarantine in order to avert plagues and viral borne diseases.

Self-quarantine and lockdown restrictions are new to most people around the world, however, it has become the norm to our lives with the advent of coronavirus, we have to adapt it to our lives with or without the consent.   

For many thousand years, civilizations around the world attempted to separate people with diseases for those who were not sick, the history of self-isolation dates back to the biblical Old Testament. As novel coronavirus started to invade every part of the world, self-quarantine has become a part of our life. All the citizens, who recently arrived from the foreign countries are advised to register with the government and to go for compulsory “self-quarantine”. If we had close contact with an infected person recently, then again, we need to go for self-quarantine. The self-quarantine had been around us for many centuries and it is helpful to look into the past in order to understand the true meaning quarantine.       

Self-quarantine had been part of some cultures for many centuries and culture such as Balinese as well as Europeans had some form of lockdown practices. Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka also had been using the practices of self-quarantine in order to avert plagues.

The word “quarantine” has an Italian origin: The Italian had imposed a rule for ships that were arriving at their coastal cities, in which the ships required to sit at anchor for 40 days, due to the Pandemic, Black Death, which was sweeping across Europe in the 14th century. This practice named as ‘quaratino’ and eventually became quarantine.  

Recently I was visiting one of my friends in Panadura. Panadura is a city in the suburb of Colombo, about 23 km south of Colombo. As I nearing the home there was a very popular sign near the gate. It is a few branches of a plant with leaves, which is hanged above the main gate. These branches are a sign that the family is under quarantine due to a communicable disease, this type of self-quarantine practice goes back far in time in the Sri Lankan society. This quarantine sign is a message to the friends, relatives and people in the area, that they should not visit the people on the particular home without informing them.

Self-quarantine was playing a big role in our lives in the recent past with several Coronavirus cases on the island. The close contact of patients, which contracted with COVID-19 was put under self-quarantine for 21 days. In some areas, the entire village was locked-down in a bid to control spreading of the novel coronavirus. In some other areas, the people were transported to the quarantine centres, which were set up by the government.

As per the earlier system, the people have hanged a branch at the gate to notify the people about the disease but during the recent COVID-19, the medical officers have shown a bill at the gate, which they have pasted on the gate making it clearly visible for the people in the area.

Self qurantine in Sri Lankan way

Sunil, whom I know for a long time, knew that I was on the way to visit him and I was also that one of the kids is sick with the chicken fox. ‘One of the kids has contracted with the chicken fox, therefore we are on quarantine’, Said Sunil. I did not have any risk of getting sick because I am immune to the chicken fox as I was contracted with the virus when I was a kid. Chicken fox is a highly communicable disease and time to time it rises from the ashes. Even though there is a vaccine for chicken fox now, which is introduced very recently. As far as I know, most people are still not bothering to take it.     

When a family member is sick with a communicable disease like a chicken fox the entire family quarantine themselves from the rest of the world for 2 weeks. Only the family members, who have developed immunity in the past going out. If there are family members such as kids, who had not contracted with the virus in the past and not immune to the infectious decease, the parents accommodate them in another place such as at a friend’s house.    

The sick person is restricted in a room for 14 days and the quarantine period ends with a ritual bath according to the customs. This type of quarantine practices is in place in the Sri Lankan society for many centuries. People are stick to self-quarantine in case of viral diseases such as Chickenpox and conjunctivitis. This type of ancient quarantine practices proved to be very successful in the effort of controlling the spreading of viral borne diseases and still plays an important role in the effort of combatting viral borne diseases.