Long Before Covid-Related Measures – A Decree Issued in 1680 Regarding Disease Control

Who can still remember all those protective measures against Corona? Early in 2020, shops, bars, restaurants and even places of worship had to close in Switzerland, cross-border traffic was severely restricted and the Federal Council governed by means of emergency law for the first time since the Second World War.

Such anti-epidemic precautions were no novelty. Davos, for instance, accommodated roughly 16,000 guests who were sick or ailing [so-called Kurgäste] around 1900. Most of them were hoping to be cured from tuberculosis in the high-altitude climate. There was a law that, when new guests checked in, the rooms had to be sanitised with disinfectants. In addition, anyone who had to cough was to use a “Blauer Heinrich” [blue Henry], a pocket spittoon.

Much more drastic measures were taken in the precursor of the canton of Graubünden, the Free State of the Three Leagues, in August 1680. An edict preserved in the Cantonal Library [Kantonsbibliothek Graubünden] is testimony to this. According to the decree, the representatives of the Three Leagues agreed to deploy disease control wardens to the borders. Henceforth, anyone who wanted to cross the border needed a so-called Bollette, a health certificate. Among others, travellers from Lower Austria, Hungary or Saxony, as well as beggars and vagabonds, were neither allowed to enter nor pass through. The reason for the measures? Fear of the plague. And this fear was deep-seated. According to early estimates, around 20,000 people fell victim to the plague in Graubünden around 1630 alone – out of a total population of 70,000.

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