In the spring of 2014, when awareness of Ebola was just beginning to dawn, a case of infection appeared in the town of Harbel, Liberia. The biggest employer in the area is Firestone. The company immediately set up a quarantine area of its hospital for the infected woman, who soon died.
They distributed hazmat suits to workers. They researched everything they could, built a treatment center, and set up a comprehensive response. Transmission stopped. Even now, the only cases seen in this area come from outside the community.
National Public Radio reported on the case and concluded:
even as the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded rages all around them, Firestone appears to have blocked the virus from spreading inside its territory…. A key reason for Firestone’s success is the close monitoring of people who have potentially been exposed to the virus — and the moving of anyone who has had contact with an Ebola patient into voluntary quarantine. By most accounts, this Ebola outbreak remains out of control, with health care workers across West Africa struggling to contain it.
Another triumph of the market and human volition! Still, somehow, the lesson here has not penetrated.
As with every crisis in the history of the modern world, Ebola fears gave rise to debates over government power, just as the Coronavirus has today.
China has kicked into gear the largest quarantine in modern history. As George E. Wantz, distinguished professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, has written:
To combat the contagion, the Chinese government has taken the extraordinary step of quarantining the city of Wuhan, as well as neighboring districts and cities. The borders are sealed, and all transportation out is blocked. Officials closed the public transportation systems. Friday morning, more than 35 million people woke up facing aggressive curtailments of their freedom.
Is all this necessary? Wantz looks at the numbers:
It’s possible that this coronavirus may not be highly contagious, and it may not be all that deadly. We also do not know yet how many people have mild coronavirus infections but have not come to medical attention,