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The Trump administration’s decision to ban most foreign nationals who had been to China in the last two weeks from traveling to the United States amid an accelerating outbreak of a novel coronavirus there was preceded by calls for similar policies from conservative lawmakers and far-right supporters of the president. Public health experts, however, warn that the move could do more harm than good.

The administration’s public health emergency declaration also requires U.S. citizens returning from China to undergo some level of quarantine, depending on where they had been in China.

Before the announcement Friday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) had called for a ban on all commercial flights from China, and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) said the government should consider “implementing a temporary travel ban on travelers from China until the threat is resolved.”


Beyond Capitol Hill, Mike Cernovich, a prominent conspiracy theorist and early Trump supporter, had agitated on Twitter for a Chinese travel ban, as has Michael Savage, another conspiracy theorist and a radio host with white nationalist beliefs. “QUARANTINE! STOP TRAVELERS FROM CHINA NOW!” he said on Twitter last week.

The ban comes on top of moves by major U.S. airlines halting flights to and from mainland China.


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The outbreak has sickened nearly 10,000 people, mostly in China, and killed more than 200. A few countries have responded by imposing full or limited travel bans. The Philippines, for instance, has banned travel from the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Countries including the Bahamas, Mongolia, and Singapore have banned all travel from China.

Public health experts have warned that travel bans are not effective at stemming the spread of a virus and can make responding to an outbreak more challenging.

“From a public health perspective, there is limited effectiveness. And then there are a host of other reasons why they can actually be counterproductive,” said Catherine Worsnop, who studies international cooperation during global health emergencies at the University of Maryland.

The World Health Organization, which declared the outbreak a global health emergency this week, has recommended against any travel or trade restrictions in response to the outbreak. Member countries, however, do not have to comply with that guidance.

“Although travel restrictions may intuitively seem like the right thing to do, this is not something that WHO usually recommends,” said Tarik Jašarević, a WHO spokesperson. “This is because of the social disruption they cause and the intensive use of resources required,” he added.

Experts said travel bans could lead to a slew of downstream effects and risk complicating the public health response.

“There’s not only the financial toll on a country that is dealing with this outbreak, but this can discourage transparency, both in this outbreak and in the future,” Worsnop said.

Travel and trade restrictions can lead to dire economic consequences for countries involved, creating a disincentive for them to quickly disclose potential outbreaks to the WHO or other nations. They can hinder the sharing of information, make it harder to track cases and their contacts, and disrupt the medical supply chain, potentially fueling shortages of drugs and medical supplies in the areas hit hardest by the outbreak. They also send a punitive message, which could contribute to discrimination and stigmatization against Chinese nationals, experts warned.

Any effort and money spent crafting and enforcing travel and trade restrictions also take away already-stretched resources from public health measures that have been proven to be far more effective, experts said. Those measures include providing assistance to countries with weaker health systems, accelerating the development of a vaccine or rapid diagnostic test, and clearly communicating with the public about when and how to seek care.

But for politicians, those responses might not feel as tangible an action as enacting a travel ban. During the 2013-2014 Ebola outbreak, there was a flurry of calls for a U.S. ban on travel from the affected countries, including from Donald Trump, then a private citizen.

“People want their government to do something when these outbreaks are happening, and adopting a border restriction is a visible policy that people think works,” Worsnop said.

Enacting such a ban would go directly against the recommendation of the WHO, which has said countries must inform the organization of any travel restrictions they put in place.

“Adopting these restrictions undermines the cooperative approach we need to respond to this kind of outbreak, specifically by undermining the authority of the WHO, which has recommended against these restrictions,” Worsnop said.

Worsnop said she is hopeful that the WHO will be able to hold countries accountable for disregarding its guidance, including pressing countries for scientific justification for their travel policies and calling out governments that have gone against its recommendations.

“Unfortunately, [governments] face domestic and international pressures, and have faced few costs in the past for not following WHO recommendations,” she said.

  • Just wondering what the infected count would be if these travel bans weren’t in place? The sick would be coming here for care. The healthy to escape infection. Our infected numbers would be in the 1,000’s. I would argue that fear of travel bans may force these countries to address the cause of these illnesses ie live markets. They will try to hide the illnesses themselves regardless of our actions.

  • Michael Savage has white nationalist views? The guy is Jewish. His people slaughtered by white nationalists in the past. Explain this to me.

    • You don’t say! The neo nazis and white nationalist these days elect some really weird leaders: Ben Shapiro, Stephen Miller, Michael Savage. Should we expect conversion en masse in the next few months. I hope Statnews will cover it!

  • Sounds to me like the WHO recommendations are more concerned with political correctness than public health. China is likely not telling the truth about the number of infected already so to say that a travel ban discourages their honesty and cooperation with the next outbreak is asinine. We need to deal with THIS outbreak quickly so that markets and travel are restored. This article is also very biased against the current administration actions and his “going against” the WHO recommendations. He does not work for the WHO, he works for us, the American people. Thank you Mr. President.

    • Obviously an early cover-up causing a delayed response.

      It is hard to tell if they are now telling the truth or not. I’ve read several very high estimates of cases, 75K to 100K, maybe more by now.

      ‘The reality is that symptoms vary significantly with some getting symptoms of a mild flu, and others getting pneumonia requiring hospitalization. Some may not ever see the doctor (or avoid seeing the doctor for fear of repercussions).

      Also, with a moderately long incubation period, there will be a large number of patients who will have already been infected, but aren’t showing symptoms yet.

      Of the 20K plus current cases, 426 deaths, and 2,788 cases listed as “severe”, meaning the death toll will likely increase significantly, even without additional infections.

      The number listed as recovered (currently 637) is pretty abysmal.

      At least one handicapped kid died of neglect with parents being quarantined.

      Unfortunately, the data is very preliminary, with some estimating this will be like the flu. I believe that is underestimating the impact significantly, with quite a few more severe cases that could eventually lead to death. And, just the shear number of pneumonia cases should be concerning, and at least would be uncomfortable should the epidemic come to the USA.

      Hopefully with a significant effort, the disease spread can be reduced to 1 or 2 provinces in China.

  • So where is WHO on live wild animals defecating & being slaughtered at filthy markets in Chinese urban centers? Cross species pathogens are now a 12 hours to the anywhere else in the world. Didn’t they get a clue from SARS? Direct jet travel from 3rd world sanitation locations should never have been allowed in the first place. Give those locals motivation to watch out for their population and visitors better instead of some woke ramblings.

    • Travel bans are the ONLY way to stop this from spreading globally.
      No more planes, boats or any transport from China until the virus has run it’s course!
      Go woke , get broke!

  • You know… this outbreak…reminds me of that movie “28 Days later”.

    If you don’t impose travel ban, this incurable disease will just spread and evolve.

  • A Travel Ban is necessary to stop the spread of an unknown and incurable pathogen that can be spread through coughing, sneezing and unwashed hands (especially after pooping). I agree that Travel Ban will hurt business, especially in the Tourism industry. But I would rather be safe and alive and not witness the Zombie Apocolypse.

  • “Public health experts, however, warn that the move could do more harm than good.”

    I disagree with the so-called Public health experts. A travel ban is necessary as it restricts any more infected people from spreading the disease on the plane and spreading to the rest of the world in wild and viral manner.

    In order to control spread, you need to isolate and contain the threat. That threat is an incurable disease coming from China. Is there a cure for SARS or the CoronaVirus? No? Then the answer is to impose a TRAVEL BAN to and from CHINA is necessary. Plain and simple.

  • The only arguments used against a travel ban in this article can be summarised as follows:

    1. It might hurt peoples feelings with ill will being directed at Chinese nationals
    2. It goes against what the WHO says.

    To number 1, who cares? I’d rather be called a racist than get infected with a virus which has already proven itself to be more contagious than Influenza. Not to mention that a vaccine is going to be at least 12 months away and that is best case scenario. All the r-tards saying that this virus is less deadlier than influenza take the entire flu season which spans months and compare that to the current 1 month period we have seen of Coronavirus. It’s not even comparable. Not to mention the incubation period is longer at around 2 weeks vs. influenza which is typically 3 days. Usually the people claiming there is nothing to fear and downplaying the Coronavirus are either of Asian decent or have asian relatives and do this to avoid stigma against them plus frame this issue as that of discrimination so they can continue to enter into the United States unmolested. This selfishly ignores the concerns of the wider community.

    Number 2, again who cares. The arguments listed by the ‘esteemed’ Catherine Worsnop about the WHO’s recommendations are all about ‘international cooperation’ and ‘financial issues’. This is just jargon for nothing. If these are the best arguments that the WHO has, then it needs some serious reshuffling in management at the top.

    “Travel and trade restrictions can lead to dire economic consequences for countries involved” – When something like this is occurring, the economy is of the least concern in developed countries. Business-as-usual is irrelevant.

    “…creating a disincentive for them to quickly disclose potential outbreaks to the WHO or other nations.” – Why? Where on earth is the correlation between restricting travel and not disclosing further outbreaks?

    “They can hinder the sharing of information, make it harder to track cases and their contacts, and disrupt the medical supply chain” – How?

    • I don’t think those racist accusations against travel ban comes from Chinese people. Maybe more on liberal people. Of the senators that asked Trump to put a travel restrictions, both are Republican. I have not heard anything from the Democrats about travel restrictions. Even China impose lockdown internally. Peking and Shanghai were locked down.

      In fact even HongKong and Singapore are imposing travel ban before the US did. And their travel ban are stricter than US.

      People inside China are also blaming the Wuhan people for exporting the virus to the rest of China.

    • @ George, Hats off to you for having the patience to read Worsnop comment. It was so senseless I did not have the patience to dissect word by words all the things she said. You even copy it and wrote a reaction to it. That took a lot of perseverance !

  • In nytimes article “As New Coronavirus Spread, China’s Old Habits Delayed Fight”, it says during the early stage. “The World Health Organization’s statements during this period echoed the reassuring words of Chinese officials.”

    So WHO, there goes your credibility. Now you are saying it might become pandemic yet discourage countries to have travel ban. Something is very wrong with WHO’s reasoning.

  • Just wait until some nation that’s had travel bans imposed decides to weaponize these virus’s to spread them intentionally in the nations who ban them from traveling. The reasoning for weaponizing it seems sound on the face of it, punish those punishing them. With absolutely nothing to lose and finding proof of it nearly impossible without their leaders confessing openly to it I can see virus’s become the weapon of choice for poor nations.

    • …and not only poor nations, but rich nations as well. One well placed viral weapon could potentially wipe out an entire generation of people and then some in short order.

    • You have watch too many conspiracy theory stories. This virus is not that deadly, who will weaponized a virus similar to common cold.

    • How much travel is optional (vacation) vs obligatory (coordinating relief efforts)?

      If I had a choice of go on vacation to China (or any place with a current epidemic), and risk infecting hundreds of millions, or potentially billions of people, and potentially killing thousands or millions of people…

      VS… not going.

      The choice would be pretty simple. Yeah, potentially frustrating to change plans, but there are much better things to do than to start a global pandemic.

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