Travel restrictions to stop the coronavirus? Here’s why they won’t work.

virus outbreak intrepid travelers
Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Travel restrictions, though not recommended by the WHO, are a tool that countries use in hopes of stopping the spread of a pathogen into their country. But history has shown that travel restrictions usually only delay the transmission of a pathogen, and are ineffective at stopping it all together.

The consequences of implementing travel restrictions include substantial economic losses and social disruption. Reducing trade by limiting travel can harm the economy of the country already fighting the outbreak. Consequently, countries with future outbreaks may be less likely to report that an outbreak exists to avoid reduced travel and revenue. Travel restrictions can also limit the sharing of information, supplies and health care workers to an outbreak zone, which can hinder public health efforts.

Related article:  Viewpoint: While 'elitist academics' praise local food 'industrial farming' feeds us during a pandemic


Though travel restrictions aren’t especially effective at stopping the spread of a virus, the potential to slow spread does give us an opportunity to prepare for the inevitable. Two weeks is a good amount of time to get health departments refreshed on the tried and true practices of outbreak containment – like case tracing, isolation, and treatment of the ill, which are methods proven to reduce the spread of a virus.

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