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

From the Chilliwack Progress Archives: Fearing an Aryan invasion

In 1995, Chilliwack Mayor John Les was concerned about the idea of an ‘Aryan Fest’ coming to town.

Big Bar Landslide saw long awaited blasting this week

Pressure has been on senior governments working with First Nations to remove blockage for months

COLUMN: Trying to look forward while looking back

Reader suggests re-running a 2015 Times column after recent racism towards Indigenous people

Two prolific offenders from Alberta lead RCMP on chase across Fraser Valley

Men first reported in Chilliwack ending with allegedly stolen vehicle in an Abbotsford pond

Chilliwack physiotherapist charged with sexual assault

Mounties urging other potential victims to make contact

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

Tyler Toffoli scores twice, Canucks crush Bruins 9-3

Stecher, Miller each add three points for Vancouver

Zamboni driver, 42, earns NHL win over Maple Leafs

Emergency goalie called into action for Carolina Hurricanes

Governor general says multiple solutions needed for ‘complicated’ overdose issue

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as politicians and health experts

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

Fiery collision involving truck closes Highway 1 at Three Valley Gap

Drivers should expect major delays and congestion; estimated time of re-opening is 2 p.m.

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Most Read