Knowing that traveling can enhance your chance of getting and spreading coronavirus, countries restrict their people’s movement, domestic or otherwise. China was the first county which imposed travel restrictions from Wuhan to mainland China. Now almost all the countries have shut down their borders and airlines. Some countries like the US, Italy, India, and Spain are even restricting inter-regional travel. Now around 90% of commercial flights are grounded.
More than 130 countries have come up with some restrictions, be it quarantine, screening, or banning travel from high-risk areas. However, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, these travel bans will have a minimal impact if local containment policies do not accompany them.
Travel restrictions were included in the World Health Organization interim protocol: rapid operations to contain the initial emergence of pandemic influenza that WHO published in 2007. Since travel and trade are restricted, WHO does not recommend these restrictions once the pandemic is established. In back 2009, some countries closed down their border to curb the spread of influenza, but the effectiveness of these measures have subsequently been questioned.
But now, almost every country on the globe has imposed travel restrictions, violating the International Health Regulations (IRH), a pact agreed by 196 countries in 2006. This pact ensures that health measures implemented by countries “shall not be more restrictive of international traffic and not more invasive or intrusive to persons than reasonably available alternatives.” So these travel restrictions are against the pact signed by states and WHO recommendations.
The Medical Cost Involved in the Travel Ban in the wake of COVID-19:
Why is WHO counseling against the travel ban? The answer to this question is that the travel ban interrupts the delivery of much needed technical aid and support, especially for developing countries, and also giving countries a false sense of security as is happening in the current pandemic. The developing countries of Asia, Africa, and South America are looking forward to developed countries for medical and technical assistance. Still, the closure of borders and shut down of airlines have made this impossible.
WHO says, “There are 47 countries not allowing any airlines to land, and we need to support these countries with equipment, especially as we cannot send any experts to give technical support, for example, with contact tracing or analysis. As a result of these restrictions, the World Food Programme (WFP) is planning to initiate an ambitious network of air bridges, a humanitarian airline, for fighting COVID-19. Instead of developed countries, WHO is a leading partner in providing medical supplies to these countries, thanks to these travel restrictions. In a world where developing countries search for medical aid from developed countries, such a travel ban puts Third World Countries under challenging conditions where curbing a virus is concerned in any pandemic.
The Economic and Social Cost of Travel Bans:
In addition to the front medical cost, these pandemic travel restrictions have posed a severe blow to the travel and tourism industry, home to millions of people’s livelihood. Tourism was one of the biggest industries worldwide unless it was met by the outbreak of coronavirus, severely putting it in danger. July and August, traditionally the two busiest months of the year, faced an 81% and 79% decrease, respectively. Comparing to 2019, it means 700 million fewer arrivals and a loss of 730 billion US$ in export revenue to international tourism.
This loss is eight times more than the loss bore in the 2009 global and economic crisis. “This unprecedented decline is having dramatic social and economic consequences and put millions of jobs and businesses at risk,” warned the UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. That is why WHO is against the travel restrictions posed by the countries because on one side effect of these bans to curb the spread of the virus is still questionable, and on the other, it deprives people of livelihood.
Limited Impact of the Travel Ban on Curbing the Spread of COVID-19:
However, though it comes with considerable economic and societal costs, travel restrictions appear to be a logical step in curbing the virus’s spread during a pandemic. At the beginning of any pandemic, i.e., when cases are still at a minimum level and within few countries or few areas, governments worldwide try to limit the spread of the disease from entering their territories and other uninfected areas by limiting international travel and domestic ban respectively.
From local to national and international level, governments apply the same strategy. It is logical and easy to see that people living in positively affected areas can easily benefit by moving to low affected areas. This is why governments all across the world are posing a strict travel ban on their population. Then the question arises whether these restrictions are of any benefit. The answer to this question has been challenged due to its being at odds with some theoretical and numerical evidence.
Analyzing the travel restrictions and their effectiveness to combat the spread of COVID-19 and their negative socio-economic and medical impacts on the people and countries is not a welcome step. As far as curbing the spread of COVID-19 is concerned, small containment steps such as washing hands, self-isolation, and household quarantine are more encouraging than the travel ban. Consequently, World Health Organization recommends not to apply travel ban, whether inter-state or intra-state.