Are travel bans effective against the new coronavirus variant?


A newly identified variant of the coronavirus, which may be 70 percent more transmissible than the earlier strain, has led more than 40 countries to impose travel restrictions against the U.K. But the U.S. is not on that list: American health experts say there is no need for such a move now. Based on previous travel restrictions and bans we’ve seen this year, would they be effective against this coronavirus variant? Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel explains.

Video Transcript

BORIS JOHNSON: The spread is now being driven by the new variant. Although there’s considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70% more transmissible than the original version of the disease.

Do you think a travel ban from the UK is a good idea?

ANTHONY FAUCI: You know, it might be premature to do that, Judy. I don’t think that that kind of a draconian approach is necessary.

KAVITA PATEL: It’s a version of mutations inside of a virus that are making the virus, in particular in the UK, much easier to give and receive, which is causing the UK to prompt this holiday anticipation lockdown because of the anticipated movement of people in the UK, also prompting worldwide travel bans and considerations for people traveling to and from the UK.

So testing or travel bans in general can be effective as a very blunt mechanism. And certainly we saw travel bans very broadly in the earlier part of this year. But that’s really a way to try to limit the virus to one geography. We already have SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, all over the world pretty much, especially in the United States.

I think that there is a good reason to be cautiously concerned. And I say concerned, because any time you see something that can make the virus, some estimates up to 70% more transmissible, that is a cause for concern, especially when we know that if a virus, for example, like that were in a nursing home in the United States, it could be incredibly destructive. But we have not seen evidence of its dissemination here.

So genetic mapping of the virus that had been largely responsible for the earlier pandemic in 2020 in New York State, New York City specifically, has now been linked to strains that were found in the European Union.

ANDREW CUOMO: We closed the front door with the China travel ban, which was right. Even in retrospect, it was right. But we left the back door open.

KAVITA PATEL: So it debunked a little bit of the notion that this was all emanating from the Asian Pacific Rim and shows that, in fact, the virus is global and that we have a global migration pattern of mutations and a global pattern of the virus. So travel bans are potentially helpful, but often can be more political than they are a public health tool.

ANDREW CUOMO: There are three airlines that come from the UK and fly into our airports. I am asking those airlines to add New York State to the list of the 120 countries that require tests before the flights leave the UK.

KAVITA PATEL: I think that the problem I see with the New York State request for testing is that people think that testing somehow will guarantee that you either do or do not have the virus. And what they don’t realize is that testing tells you just for that very particular moment if you have SARS-COV-2 and could have COVID-19.

But we know that you could easily have a negative test, board a plane, and then come off the plane and be positive hours later, but get passed through customs, passed through security. Unfortunately, Cuomo’s request might be a bit more political than public health, only because it’s hard to really isolate one state in particular. You really do need cooperation from the states that people travel to.

And especially in a state like New York, we already know that there is incredible travel across Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, for example. And it would be more ideal to have those governors kind of working in a block together.

ANDREW CUOMO: But it doesn’t do New York any good unless it works for the nation, right? Otherwise, you’ll just have people flying to Chicago or somewhere else and get on a plane and fly to New York.

KAVITA PATEL: So unfortunately, we have once again found ourselves without any sort of national guidance. And that trickles down to many things, including quarantine and travel restrictions. You can just look at large states like Texas and Florida and California and see very different requirements.

And in some cases, some of the states are not even updating their quarantine guidelines to be consistent with the CDC. Again, it’s an emphasis that we do not have a national strategy, and states have been left to their own devices for recommendations.

ANDREW CUOMO: You can’t control this virus state by state. It’s impossible. We’re one nation.



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