Foreign Policy
July 12, 2022

The Effects of Covid Travel Restrictions

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As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we ask ourselves, “What can we do to curb the spread?” Many nations — such as Vietnam — have looked toward complete lockdowns, while others — like the U.S. — have done minimal to prevent the spread. We all know what lockdowns do, but what about travel restrictions. Would they work?

Before we talk about the effects of travel restrictions, it is necessary to understand how COVID-19 spreads through travel. First is the airport. Airports around the world will have many people inside them, many unmasked eating lunch, and an occasional infected passenger. So, a hypothetical passenger traveling to Mexico unaware that they have COVID-19 could infect a passenger heading for London, worsening the spread across two city centers and then infecting others in their destination airports. Something else to understand is planes. Thankfully, most airlines and countries require passengers to be masked during the duration of the flight, but there are always risks of infections when people are held together in a small, unventilated area for hours on end. We have seen these plane infections lately with the U.K. and South African variants as world governments work to track the spread of these new strains. So, would placing restrictions on traveling help these situations?

First of all, what is a travel restriction? In the COVID-19 era, it usually means closing off borders to foreigners and certain countries and a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival. It can also include blocking of flights, airport closures, and mandatory negative PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) COVID-19 tests. Countries around the globe that have implemented these measures, such as New Zealand, have seen a declining number of cases. During the initial outbreak, New Zealand saw an uptick in cases and immediately went into lockdown. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden issued a quarantine and closed the country’s borders to everyone except New Zealanders and residents who were abroad. The effects of this are clear: a large curb in COVID-19 cases. As of now, New Zealand averages 1-2 cases per day. So, it is clear that this type of travel restriction helps tremendously.

However, if these restrictions help so much, why are they not implemented in the United States and other countries. There are a couple reasons, but the biggest one is the economy. The current economic situation is getting grimmer by the day, and the tourism industry got hit hard. This impact also applies to airlines, hotels, and restaurants. With a global pandemic, tourism is bound to take a big hit, but travel restrictions will hurt the industry more. Suddenly, travelers would find themselves locked out of their destination or home country. But, the largest hit would be local economies. Places the average American regularly visits (Mexico, Italy, Dominican Republic) all run off tourism. Many locals of these destinations pay for their daily needs by working for tourists. Blocking those tourists would disrupt the well-being of many citizens of other countries. A second is the airline industry. Roughly one million Americans are employed in the airline industry and another 10 million jobs are driven by it. Closure in this would be catastrophic to American jobs. 

So, this is where a compromise is necessary. The economy? Or curbing the spread of the virus? What if there was a middle ground that could be reached. A system keeping American health a priority while also keeping American and local economies stable. A system where, first of all, we look toward eliminating the risk of the pathogen in the airports and planes. A negative PCR is taken at most 48 hours before boarding, and social distancing precautions are taken before one arrives at the airport. Designated eating zones in the airport, and masks always on. On the plane, masks stay on, and middle seats are reserved as a buffer in-between passengers. These simple measures can turn the risk of transmission to roughly 1%. Upon arrival, a 14-day social distancing period is to be completed, and once that is finished, the passenger can go about life while continuing socially distance. This way, the risk of transmission is lowered significantly, and the local economies and the airlines do not take as big of a hit.

However, there is one caveat to this. Hypothetically, an infected passenger from a country with no restrictions could carry the virus onto the plane and, upon arrival to their destination, infect another passenger in the airport. This passenger had already completed their requirements to board the plane, and now with the virus with them, they board their flight and spread it to their destination. The effect of travel restrictions will be neutralized if not all countries and people are willing to comply with the regulations. 

Of course, the best solution is to stay home and travel only when necessary. However, this is not an option for many, so these regulations are imperative to be in place so the world can help neutralize the threat.

Works Cited

HealthManagement.org. “Do Travel Restrictions Work Against COVID-19?” HealthManagement, 23 Oct. 2020, healthmanagement.org/c/hospital/news/do-travel-restrictions-work-against-covid-19. 

“New Zealand Border Entry Requirements.” Immigration New Zealand, www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/border-closures-and-exceptions#:~:text=From%2021%20January%202021%20you,is%20a%20Safe%20Travel%20Zone. 

“Secure Your Place in Managed Isolation.” Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, www.miq.govt.nz/travel-to-new-zealand/secure-your-place-in-managed-isolation/. 

Carolyn Y. Johnson, Laurie McGinley. “New Coronavirus Variants Accelerate Race to Make Sure Vaccines Keep Up.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 Jan. 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/01/25/covid-vaccine-virus-variant/. 

“Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Updates.” Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Updates | City of Rochester, MI - Official Website, www.rochestermi.org/535/Community-Preparation-to-Coronavirus.