Tracking Coronavirus in Countries With and Without Travel Bans

Tracking Coronavirus in Countries With and Without Travel Bans

Travel restrictions have neither stopped the spread of this novel coronavirus nor prevented it from becoming a pandemic

The picture is taken of a TSA checkpoint pavilion from a high vantage and shows a long snaking rope line completely empty of travelers.
Signs of reduced travel can be see in the empty lines to reach a TSA immigration checkpoint at one of the terminals at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Based on government statements, official state media stories, and reporting from mainstream independent journalism outlets, Think Global Health has identified eighty-eight countries and territories that have imposed some form of travel restriction against China during the COVID-19 outbreak. Restrictions include:

  • Border closures, defined as a partial or total closure of a land border with China;
  • Entry or exit bans, which generally restrict the ability of nationals to depart from their country for travel to China or the ability of foreign travelers, nationals, or both from entering a country after traveling from or transiting through China;
  • Visa restrictions, which include total or partial visa suspensions or restrictions, such as halting visa-on-arrival programs, for travelers originating from or traveling through China; and
  • Flight suspensions, which include government bans on flights to or from China and suspension of flights to and from China by state-owned airlines.

Their travel restrictions have neither stopped the spread of this novel coronavirus nor prevented it from becoming a pandemic. Early research and scenario analysis, however, suggest the combination of the travel restrictions within China and international travel restrictions against China may have delayed the spread of COVID-19, but more so in nations that use that time to reduce community spread of the virus.

The graph shows cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 over time for all countries with confirmed cases as of March 11. The x-axis show days since the first travel restrictions were implemented. For all travel restriction imposing countries, data has been indexed to start from their respective day zero of travel restriction implementation.
All data for confirmed cases of COVID-19, except for the U.S., comes from John Hopkins University. Due to inconsistencies in U.S. data reporting, data for U.S. confirmed cases comes from WHO. CFR/Samantha Kiernan

The figure above tracks the increase in cumulative reported COVID-19 cases in those countries with travel restrictions on China (in red) and those without such restrictions (in blue), through March 18. The countries with bans are indexed, showing the cumulative growth in reported COVID-19 cases since the day each country imposed its first travel restriction. The countries without travel bans are indexed to January 27, when an increasing number of countries began imposing travel restrictions.

Among these eighty-eight countries and territories imposing travel restrictions, the median duration of travel restrictions has been forty-seven days and the most frequently seen duration has been forty-eight days, dating to January 31. The figure does not show countries without confirmed COVID-19 cases as of March 18, which includes the additional eighteen WHO member countries that have not implemented travel restrictions and the other twenty-seven WHO member countries that have imposed travel restrictions. The information provided in this article will be updated periodically to reflect new COVID-19 case reports.

‘States that implement additional measures that “significantly interfere with international traffic” are required to report those restrictions to WHO’

Article 43 of the International Health Regulations (IHR), a binding international treaty,  legally restricts the measures countries can implement when addressing public health risks to those measures that are supported by science, commensurate with the risks involved, and comply with any specific WHO guidance. States that implement additional measures that “significantly interfere with international traffic” are required to report those restrictions to WHO. As defined by the International Health Regulations, significant interference may include refusal of entry or departure of international travelers or their delay for more than 24 hours.

On January 30, WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus originating in China in 2019, a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Since doing so, WHO has not recommended travel or trade restrictions against China or other affected regions, and in updated guidelines on managing ill travelers and considerations for quarantine has yet to recommend any restrictions on trade or travel. As of March 12, the WHO reports that only forty-five states had reported imposing travel restrictions against China, Chinese nationals, or travelers originating from or transiting through China to WHO. Think Global Health has identified a total of eighty-eight WHO member states and territories imposing travel restrictions of varying severity on China due to COVID-19.

The image shows a stunningly clear, beautiful day with a square that would normally be packed with tourists mostly empty.
A nun walks next to an empty St. Peter's Square on the third day of an unprecedented lockdown across of all Italy imposed to slow the outbreak of coronavirus, as seen from Rome on Mar 12, 2020. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Samantha Kiernan is a research associate on global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Madeleine DeVita is an intern with the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior studying biology of global health at Georgetown University.

Thomas J. Bollyky is is director of the global health program and senior fellow for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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