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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a situation in which a person or animal that might have a disease is kept separate from other people or animals so that they do not catch the disease

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun quarantine is borrowed from French and Latin words derived from the word for ’40’. It originally meant ‘period of 40 days’ and was first used in the 15th century to refer to the place where Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, and subsequently to other 40-day periods. The meaning of keeping people or animals apart for fear of disease dates from the early 17th century. The verb is much later, dating from the beginning of the 19th century.


Quarantine is a noun and a verb referring to the practice of keeping people or animals who might be infected with a particular disease separate from other people or animals so that they don’t pass it on. While quarantine is still routinely practised for animals crossing international borders, it has become much less common for humans to be quarantined due to improved control of infectious diseases. Some viruses are so virulent, however, that quarantine is deemed to be necessary for those who are or might be carrying them, and a novel form of coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan is currently leading many countries to impose quarantine on those who might be infected. A person or animal who is isolated in this way is said to be in quarantine. UK residents who recently returned voluntarily from China are being housed in the accommodation wing of a hospital on the Wirral peninsula for the duration of the virus’s maximum incubation period, which is thought to be 2 weeks.


“Democratic institutions form a system of quarantine for tyrannical desires.”
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

No travel ban or quarantine will seal a country completely.
(Atul Gawande)

Related words

carrier, contagion, immune, spread

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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