Contagious Disease Current Events

Do travel bans work?

According to Vox, the answer is ‘no’.  The reason isn’t because travel bans don’t work in theory; it is because in practice travel bans  are never perfectly enforceable and thus may cause more harm than they help.

But there’s a very clear problem with using a travel ban to stop Ebola: it renders useless the two best methods we have for stopping Ebola. Determined people will find ways to cross borders anyway, and if they don’t go through airports or they lie about where they came from, health officials can’t track their movements.

The article uses some examples of other travel bans.

Temporary flight bans and decreases in air travel following 9/11 provided a natural experiment in the impact of travel on seasonal influenza. Researchers found the reduced movement of people didn’t stop the flu; it only delayed it by a couple of weeks and led to a prolonged flu season. So the researchers didn’t find that restricting air travel prevented flu spread; only that it delayed it.

A paper from Brookings finds similar results.

Travel bans clearly are harmful to the short-run economy and are harmful in the long-run as well unless they prevent the spread of disease. Further, travel bans also prohibit aid from going to the areas most in need.

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