Global experts, institutions disfavor imposing travel restrictions on China amid COVID-19 outbreak
China Daily


A staff member checks passengers' body temperature before their departure for Wuhan at the airport counter of Spring Airlines at Tokyo International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, Jan. 31, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua)

Global experts have argued against imposing travel restrictions on China during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), saying such measures are groundless, ineffective and against humanity.

The argument has been seconded by the World Health Organization (WHO) and institutions in dozens of countries, which have simultaneously called for international cooperation to support China and fight the COVID-19.

Calls for evidence-based decisions

In a paper published last week on British medical journal The Lancet, scholars argued that imposing travel bans on China is a flagrant violation of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

The IHR governs how 196 countries and WHO collectively address the global spread of disease and avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade, stipulating that the measures countries implement when addressing public health risks need to be supported by science, commensurate with the risks involved and anchored in human rights.

Citing Article 43 of the regulations, the paper, written by 16 scholars and supported by research institutions in Canada, Britain, the United States, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and so on, argued that the travel restrictions against China are not supported by science, ineffective, and, most importantly, disregarding the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons.

The WHO has said there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. Addressing the 146th session of the WHO Executive Board meeting earlier this month, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent.

Tedros's advise has been echoed by his predecessor Margaret Chan. "WHO has declared that all countries shall not impose travel or trade restrictions on China. And this is also the spirit of international health regulations valued by the WHO," the former director-general has said.

Cooperation rather than restriction

At a time when many countries have put travel restrictions on China, world experts have voiced support for China and stressed that global cooperation rather than restriction is essential to overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Such outbreaks can happen in any parts of the world. Rather than giving pressure to China or suspending the flights and imposing travel bans, the international community should help and cooperate with it in this crisis period," said Sundarnath Bhattarai, acting chairman of China Study Center-Nepal.

Jennifer Nuzzo, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the United States should re-examine its approach to the virus crisis, including travel restrictions and suspension of flights.

These measures are inconsistent with the advice of the WHO, and unlikely to be effective in stopping the virus from entering the country; instead they will take a toll on the economy and trade, said Nuzzo.

Following a special meeting in Brussels on Thursday, European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the EU is not considering banning Chinese travelers from entering its visa-free Schengen area at the moment, and people should have faith in the measures being taken by member states and China to contain the virus.

In Africa, director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) John Nkengasong said the African CDC is currently coordinating with China to address the novel coronavirus outbreak and warned against baseless fearmongering.

"WHO has made it clear there should be no restriction on flights to, in and out of China, and we adhere to the WHO advisory," he said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization has repeatedly called on its members to follow the travel and health recommendations issued by the WHO and not to impose restrictions inconsistent with the IHR.

Other aviation organizations including the International Air Transport Association and Association of Asia Pacific Airlines have also spoken against travel restrictions that disrupt international air transport.