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Do travel restrictions work?

Travel ban imposed for certain countries for health reasons raises the question of effectiveness

A woman pulls a suitcase.
A woman pulls a suitcase at Lisbon’s international airport, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Portugal. Travel bans imposed for certain countries for health reasons raise the question of effectiveness.
Armando Franca, Associated Press

The United States issued a travel ban for several African nations, the Deseret News reported, as more research on the potential impacts of omicron, the new coronavirus variant, are underway.

But these restrictions have been criticized by experts and officials alike who deem them ineffective and damaging to coronavirus tracking.

  • “There is very little utility of these kinds of bans,” said Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute of Global Health, per NPR.
  • “Unfortunately, from what we know about the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 and the epidemiology of this variant, the horse has probably left the barn,” he said, alluding to the variant’s high transmissibility.

Similarly, CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner considers the travel restrictions “an illusion of protection,” adding that this method of protection is as useless as a screen door.

  • Experts said the ban will disincentivize countries from looking into the origins of the variant as well, per CNN.

The World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa also stands against the ban.

  • In a statement, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said, “With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity. COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions.”

A recent study in the Science journal revealed that travel restrictions do help slow down the spread in the beginning. In this case, the travel quarantine in Wuhan only delayed the spread by three to five days within China. Though the international restrictions did help slow the spread worldwide for almost a month.

However, taking measures such as hand-washing, self-isolation and quarantining paired with early detection is more effective in mitigating the pandemic.

Another study, published in the Journal of Emergency Management, concluded something similar — it found that international travel bans weren’t that effective in controlling the spread of the disease and that such dire measures should only be taken when WHO makes the recommendations.