Covid journey restrictions: Do they work?

(CNN) — Governments try to purchase time with a rash of recent journey restrictions as they determine the potential impression of Omicron.

However the restrictions are being criticized by some officers and medical specialists as ineffective and probably damaging to international coronavirus monitoring.

“I believe that is actually an phantasm of safety,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner mentioned Monday.

“The metaphor that I’ve been utilizing — it is like locking a display door. You’re feeling such as you’ve executed one thing to guard your self, however you actually have not,” the professor of medication and surgical procedure at George Washington College advised CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

“I am unsure what this ban will obtain, aside from so as to add some disincentive to different international locations that could be seeking to do intense sequencing and establish variants,” Reiner mentioned. “This would possibly incentivize these international locations to perhaps, you realize, again off on that a bit of bit as a result of no good deed goes unpunished.”

The World Well being Group’s Regional Workplace for Africa mentioned Sunday that it stands with African nations and known as for borders to stay open as an rising variety of international locations world wide impose flight bans from southern African international locations.

The workplace mentioned international locations ought to take a risk-based and scientific strategy and put in place measures that may restrict the variant’s doable unfold.

“Putting in journey bans that concentrate on Africa assaults international solidarity,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti mentioned. “Covid-19 always exploits our divisions. We’ll solely get the higher of the virus if we work collectively for options.”

Journey restrictions might play a task in barely decreasing the unfold of Covid-19 however “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

Research present that journey restrictions might solely gradual the introduction of a brand new virus or variant by a couple of weeks, and WHO has repeatedly expressed fears that journey bans harm economies and discourage international locations from being forthright about reporting new viruses or variants.

Holes within the technique

The restrictions imposed by the US barring vacationers from southern Africa might gradual transmission, however they spotlight holes within the nation’s new guidelines, some medical professionals say.

There’s an “intuitive attraction” to proscribing journey, says Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious ailments at Vanderbilt College Medical Middle.

“‘Gee, the unhealthy viruses are there, let’s put down an iron curtain and forestall the virus from getting right here,’ however journey restrictions usually are not very restrictive,” he mentioned.

In actual fact, they’re very porous for a number of causes.

For one, america’ new restrictions nonetheless enable US residents and authorized everlasting residents coming from the affected international locations in southern Africa into america.

“What makes anyone suppose that they could not deliver the virus with them?” Schaffner mentioned. It is much like the earliest restrictions in 2020 curbing journey from China, he mentioned. “Individuals stored coming again, and so they introduced the virus with them.”

Travelers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa.

Vacationers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo Worldwide Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021, after a number of international locations banned flights from South Africa.

Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Photographs

A spring 2020 examine within the journal Science confirmed that the unique restriction of journey inside China after the novel coronavirus was first found in Wuhan solely slowed the development of the epidemic by three to 5 days in China.

That very same examine confirmed that worldwide journey restrictions helped gradual the unfold of coronavirus to the remainder of the world till mid-February, nevertheless it additionally advised that different mitigation measures (similar to early detection, family quarantines and hand-washing) can be simpler than journey restrictions at curbing the pandemic.

International vacationers to the US should be absolutely vaccinated and examined earlier than arriving within the US, and people sorts of measures are efficient at decreasing the import of viruses, Reiner mentioned.

Biden: Ban in place ‘to present us time’

On Monday, President Joe Biden mentioned the aim of the ban on journey from sure southern African international locations is “to present us time to get folks to get safety. To be vaccinated and get the booster. That is the rationale for it.”

He acknowledged on Twitter on Monday that “whereas we all know that journey restrictions can gradual the unfold — they can’t forestall it. We must face this new risk.”

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen says the Biden administration ought to have gone a lot additional with its restrictions by requiring returning vacationers to quarantine and retest after arrival.

Canada has applied quarantine and post-arrival testing for residents and residents coming back from some African international locations. And the UK has instituted a compulsory resort quarantine for residents and residents coming back from international locations on the UK’s crimson listing. (See a full listing of recent journey restrictions by nation right here.)

Since Omicron sequences have been present in quite a few different international locations past southern Africa, “there needs to be an across-the-board quarantine and retesting requirement,” mentioned Wen, who’s an emergency doctor and visiting professor of well being coverage and administration on the George Washington College Milken Institute Faculty of Public Well being.

“If applied appropriately, (journey restrictions) do work in slowing down the speed of transmission,” she mentioned. “It solely works, although, if there aren’t substantial loopholes as there presently are within the US journey ban.”

The character of the virus means restrictions usually are not a magical answer.

“We’re coping with a very contagious respiratory virus, and historical past tells us that bans, restrictions, and so forth., solely give us a bit of little bit of time, if that, as a result of these are so contagious that they are going to unfold,” Schaffner mentioned.

And “there’s all the time a component of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped,” he mentioned, noting that it is “solely a matter of time” earlier than the Omicron variant is found in america.

‘Knee-jerk’ response criticized

Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and former co-chair of the South African Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, advised CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” on Monday that journey bans are “outrageous” and may have little, if any, impression on stopping the unfold of the brand new Omicron variant.

“Firstly, it is outrageous that South Africa and southern Africa is being punished for having good surveillance and, you realize, guaranteeing that we wished to be fully clear and to share this information with the remainder of the world as quickly as we knew it and confirmed it,” Karim mentioned, when requested about journey restrictions put in place and the way efficient they had been.

“If you concentrate on … what we have skilled with the Delta variant, inside a matter of three weeks it was in over 53 international locations, so it is going to change into superfluous and irrelevant to attempt to block journey from, you realize, a couple of international locations as a result of it will likely be spreading in lots of different international locations,” he mentioned.

“Certainly, by the point we bought to learn about it, which was fairly rapidly provided that the primary affected person was most likely in our system concerning the ninth of November, that we’re transmission has most likely seeded itself in most international locations.”

The early “knee-jerk response” to dam journey will gradual the unfold barely at greatest, Karim mentioned, however will most likely have “little if any impression” as a result of there’s already an excellent strategy to stopping the unfold of the virus via air and sea journey.

This includes 5 key elements, he mentioned. Making certain that vaccinated individuals are the one ones touring, that they’ve a adverse PCR take a look at, are asymptomatic, put on masks in journey and are examined on entry.

“These issues, you realize, will sift out 99.9% of the circumstances,” he mentioned.

Members of the journey trade are additionally calling for a data-driven strategy to the brand new variant.

The Worldwide Air Transport Affiliation (IATA) says the brand new journey restrictions are “not a long-term answer” on the subject of managing coronavirus variants.

“Governments are responding to the dangers of the brand new coronavirus variant in emergency mode inflicting worry among the many touring public,” IATA Director Basic Willie Walsh mentioned in a press release. “As rapidly as doable, we should use the expertise of the final two years to maneuver to a coordinated data-driven strategy that finds secure options to frame closures and quarantine.”

The measures may backfire

South Africa needs to be praised for its detection and reporting of the Omicron variant, not face journey bans, Dr. Margaret Harris, spokesperson for the World Well being Group, advised CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday on “At This Hour.”

“South Africa ought to get a gold medal for the standard of its science and the standard of its transparency,” Harris mentioned when requested whether or not the impact of journey bans was that South Africa was being punished.

“We’ve got not seen practically sufficient of that, of transparency notably, and certainly to then make South Africa really feel that doing all the appropriate issues results in a really unhealthy end result is just not good.”

In addition to being unhealthy for South Africa, it’s also unhealthy for the remainder of the world, she mentioned. “Different international locations will then really feel, ‘why would we come out and say we have got this situation, we have got this drawback?’ in the event that they see this form of consequence.”

Correction: A earlier model of this story misstated the title for Salim Abdool Karim. He’s the previous co-chair of the South African Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19.

CNN’s Jen Christensen, Jasmine Wright and Sharon Braithwaite contributed to this report.

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