In Practice

COVID-19 and quarantine orders: A practical approach

W M Botes, D W Thaldar


Quarantine is a very effective method for containing the spread of highly infectious diseases in large populations during a pandemic, but it is only effective if properly implemented. The co-operation and compliance of people entering quarantine are critical to its success. However, owing to the isolating and social distancing nature of quarantine, it often leads to extreme economic hardship and shortages in basic needs such as food, medicine, water and communication – and to the curtailment of certain universal social norms such as attending a parent’s funeral. To escape these hardships, people often refuse to enter voluntary quarantine, or breach quarantine rules. In these circumstances, health authorities are obliged to act in the best interests of the public and obtain court orders to force some people into quarantine. In further extreme circumstances, when a national lockdown is ordered, non-compliance with quarantine measures may result in arrests and penalties. The scope of this article is limited to the period prior to and following such a lockdown, during which quarantine may still be vital for the containment of COVID-19. Because a quarantine order will deprive an individual of his or her freedom, this must be carefully balanced with the public interest. This article explains the legal and ethical considerations of this balancing exercise and provides practical guidance for obtaining quarantine orders.

Authors' affiliations

W M Botes, Health Law and Bioethics, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

D W Thaldar, Health Law and Bioethics, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Quarantine; Pandemic; COVID-19; Court order; Public health

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2020;110(6):469-472. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i6.14794

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-04-22
Date published: 2020-04-22

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