History really does repeat itself in this remarkable 432-year-old account on social distancing, quarantine, and lockdown measures.
The year was 1582, and the world had already fallen to its knees against the bubonic plague, known as The Black Death, which erupted in 1346 and killed 40% of Egypt’s population and a total of 50 million people worldwide. However, in the 16th century, the plague resurfaced and hit Europe, and the Mediterranean in particular, every year until 1671.
A sailor arrived in the city of Alghero in Sardinia, Italy, from Marseille, where the plague had already been raging since 1581. Within days, he was dead, and the outbreak began. The epidemic is thought to have killed 60% of the city’s population; however, thanks to one forward-thinking man, the virus was contained within eight months, and it affected no neighbouring cities.
Dr Quinto Tiberio Angelerio swiftly raised the alarm to government officials and created a manual of 57 rules to restrict and regulate the population’s activities in an effort to contain the virus. In a striking resemblance to today’s COVID-19 guidelines, the manual, titled Ectypa Pestilentis Status Algheriae Sardiniae, primarily ushered in a lockdown and quarantine. Citizens with symptoms were advised to remain indoors for 40 days, while other households were generally advised to stay indoors, allowing only one person to go out for essential errands. All meetings, dances, and entertainment were forbidden, which resulted in arrests of those who broke the rules.
Social distancing was another important guideline, and citizens were instructed to carry a 6-foot cane or stick to keep their distance from others when obliged to go outdoors. The manual also advised against physical contact, and to regularly wash hands and disinfect homes and shopping items. Also, following the failure of a simple health check which resulted in the passage of Marseille’s patient zero, health passports were required for those who wished to enter the city.
The manual was initially discredited and thought to have been unnecessarily worrying and apocalyptic in nature. Many officials and citizens in the city detested the manual, and even threatened the life of Dr Angelerio, who finally got the approval to implement the manual after meeting with the viceroy. The guidelines were proven effective and successful, swiftly containing the virus by 1583. When the pandemic resurfaced in the city again 60 years later, the first thing they did was turn to Angelerio’s instructions.
Although still rejected by the uneducated, such measures are now considered very normal. However, 400 years ago, before Dr Angelerio’s then-highly innovative instructions, traditional medical treatments against the plague considered vinegar to be a cutting edge antiseptic, as well as bathing in one’s own urine and rubbing oneself with the back end of a live chicken, which we definitely cannot recommend for 2021!