The U.S. is barring foreign nationals who’ve traveled to China, due to Wuhan virus. Experts disagree.

Travel bans are not always as useful as they sound.

A young asian woman stands in an airport holding a passport
The WHO doesn't recommend limiting travel or trade.DepositPhoto

The Trump Administration announced Friday that it would temporarily ban foreign nationals who have traveled to China in the last 14 days, with the exception of permanent residents and the immediate family members of American citizens. Those individuals with the exception, along with U.S. citizens themselves, will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine if they enter the country after traveling to the Hubei province of China, where the outbreak is thought to have originated. Travelers in these categories returning from other parts of China will receive enhanced health screenings and must cooperate with up to two weeks of “monitoring and self quarantine,” according to The New York Times.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus spreading out of China to be a global health emergency. But even with serious concerns over the disease, which has surged to nearly 10,000 cases in China and popped up in smaller numbers in 19 other countries, the WHO has strongly advised against limiting international travel and trade.

“WHO doesn’t recommend limiting trade and movement,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering info-sharing and medical supply chains, and harming economies. We urge countries and companies to make evidence-based, consistent decisions.”

Despite that advice, on Thursday the U.S. State Department advised Americans not to travel to China. Delta, American, and United Airlines have also all temporarily halted their flights between the United States and mainland China, following a law suit filed by the Allied Pilots Association on Thursday arguing that such flights posed an unacceptable risk to crew. The State Department is reportedly working to find arrangements for citizens still stuck in China.

Public health experts told STAT on Friday that, while travel bans may sound like common sense for keeping pathogens out, they can actually be counterproductive due to social disruption, fear, and economic consequences for the countries affected.

“Adopting these restrictions undermines the cooperative approach we need to respond to this kind of outbreak, specifically by undermining the authority of the WHO, which has recommended against these restrictions,” Catherine Worsnop, who studies international cooperation during global health emergencies at the University of Maryland, told STAT.

Banning certain foreign nationals could also serve to validate incidents of xenophobia related to 2019-nCoV, which are already on the rise, and could discourage governments from being open about their rates of infection due to fear of international retaliation.