A medical staffer works with test systems for the diagnosis of coronavirus, at the Krasnodar Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology microbiology lab in Krasnodar, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. Russia has closed its land border with China and suspended most train traffic between the countries. (AP Photo)

Travel restrictions during outbreak needless and illegal, global law experts say

World Health Organization has advised against travel restrictions during the COVID-19 outbreak

Global health law experts say dozens of countries — including the United States and Australia — are breaking international law by imposing travel restrictions during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a commentary published in The Lancet medical journal, 16 health law scholars argue that the restrictions on travellers who’ve been in China, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, are driven by “fear, misinformation, racism and xenophobia,” rather than science.

And they say those are a violation of the International Health Regulations, legally binding rules meant to ensure that countries don’t take needless measures to control the spread of an infectious disease that end up harming people or discouraging countries from reporting new public health risks.

The World Health Organization has advised against travel restrictions during the COVID-19 outbreak on the grounds that they do more harm than good.

Yet Steven Hoffman, senior author of The Lancet commentary and a professor at York University’s faculty of health, says 72 countries have imposed restrictions anyway.

And two-thirds of those countries have not reported their actions to the WHO, which in itself is another violation of international law.

“Responses that are anchored in fear, misinformation, racism and xenophobia will not save us from outbreaks like COVID-19,” the scholars argue.

“Upholding the rule of international law is needed now more than ever.”

ALSO READ: Fear, boredom and adventure on cruise ship quarantined in Japan

In the short term, the scholars argue that travel restrictions prevent needed supplies from getting into regions affected by an outbreak, slow the international public health response, ”stigmatize entire populations and disproportionately harm the most vulnerable among us.”

Over the longer term, the restrictions encourage other countries to similarly ignore international law during future outbreaks.

“Effective global governance is not possible when countries cannot depend on each other to comply with international agreements.”

In an interview from Geneva, where he is working with the WHO on the international response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Hoffman praised Canada for not imposing any travel restrictions on people coming from China.

“It’s probably very hard for the Canadian government to resist calls for things like travel restrictions, which Canadians see other countries doing. Yet it’s so important that we do and that we maintain the current evidence-based approach that the government is taking,” Hoffman said.

“It kind of makes me proud that my country is doing it right.”

By contrast, Hoffman said the U.S. and Australia are prime examples of countries that are breaking international law.

The U.S. has banned entry to foreign nationals who have been in China in the previous 14 days. U.S. nationals and residents who’ve been in China’s Hubei province are subject to mandatory quarantine while those who’ve visited other areas in China must return to the U.S. only through specified ports where they will undergo health screening and face self-isolation.

Australia has banned entry to visitors who have transited through or been in China on or after Feb. 1. Australian nationals and residents who’ve been in China must self-isolate for 14 days.

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nelson and COVID-19: everything you need to know

Check this page for every local story related to the outbreak

West Kootenay couple escapes Spain – safe, sound, and in self-isolation

BC couple Garrett Kucher and Tory Apostoliuk make it home after almost a week of lockdown in Spain

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

MP Morrison touts non-partisan effort to provide relief amid COVID-19 pandemic

The federal government has announced a slew of economic initiatives for those impacted by the pandemic

No plans to call in military right now to enforce COVID-19 quarantine: Trudeau

Trudeau unveils $7.5M for Kids Help Phone, $9M for vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

QUIZ: How much do you know about the Olympics?

Put your knowledge to the test with these 12 questions

B.C. announces $3M for food banks to increase capacity during COVID-19

It is not clear how much of the money will flow towards Greater Victoria food banks

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

World COVID-19 update: U.S. expects 100,000 deaths; Oregon declares disaster

Comprehensive update of world news for Sunday, March 19.

Sewers stitch masks to free up supplies for front-line health-care workers

“We have little old ladies sewing up a storm,” said Joan Davis

Experts weigh in on best handling of groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

Study suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic

‘There is community’: B.C. councillor welcomes new baby into world amid COVID-19 pandemic

‘I realize there’s much more than fear and worry… there is hope, there is new life’: Jason Lum

Most Read