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

New intersection coming for Hwy. #2A near grain terminal

G3 Canada will begin new intersection in 2020

Franchises a great option for business-minded

BMO expert gives brief look at 2020

County of Wetaskiwin transfer donated land to Scouts Canada body

A.L. Siler originally asked county to hold land in trust in 1972

Good Neighbour award presented at Lakedell Ag Society AGM

Meryln Fontaine Memorial presented to Tammy Southern

Wetaskiwin RCMP seeking witnesses to car-jacking

Armed theft resulted in two subjects facing multiple charges

Pipeline dispute: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Conservatives say they have no confidence in the Trudeau government to end the rail blockades

Carbon risk for Alberta’s public pension manager questioned

AIMCo says nearly $115 billion invested in carbon-intensive industries is on par with other funds

Worker, shocked at future Amazon warehouse in Nisku, has died: family

Colton Quast, 25, was taken to hospital and put in a medically induced coma

Blockade supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on rail line in Edmonton

‘Cuzzins for Wet’suwet’en’ post pics of wooden crates on line, signs saying ‘No Pipelines on Stolen Land’

Higher costs should kill Trans Mountain pipeline, federal opposition says

Most recent total was $12.6 billion, much higher than a previous $7.4-billion estimate

Trudeau says Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades a critical moment for country

First Nations leaders suggest it may be time to peacefully end the blockades

AFN national chief calls for calm on Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades

Hereditary chiefs in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation oppose the natural-gas pipeline

Federal, B.C. ministers seek meeting with Wet’suwet’en in hope of blockade solution

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route

Flight to evacuate Canadians from cruise ship ‘expected’ to depart Japan on Thursday

Canadians seeking to return to home by commercial means will be subject to the Quarantine Act

Most Read