Why a travel ban is useless

There’s a growing sentiment towards enacting a travel ban to try to contain Ebola.  Based on my viewpoint and experience with travel, a travel ban would be as effective as trying to capture a hurricane in a mason jar.  There are numerous reasons why a ban wouldn’t work here in America, and most of them are because of things that we can’t control, even with a ban in place.

First, banning people traveling directly from the countries suffering with infection would not stop the eventual spread of the virus to America.  We’ve already seen the virus here on American soil, and there are no direct flights from any of the infected countries to any American airport.  The virus got to America by connection through Brussels, Belgium, and I don’t ever recall America having authority to ban people from traveling to Brussels from countries outside of American control.  Given the numerous airlines and connection points, we would have to shut down most international travel worldwide to effect a ban of people coming to America simply due to the numerous pathways to our sovereign soil.  Just as we wouldn’t allow any other country to govern us, we don’t have the authority, legally or otherwise, to dictate what other countries do as far as travel is concerned.

I’ve heard people discussing stopping travel based on passport countries, and that’s just as useless because of the number of people who qualify or hold dual or even multiple citizenship of different countries.  If a Liberian national also has Belgian citizenship, how does anyone know if and/or when he travels to Liberia if he’s using different passports that show him as citizens of two different countries?  You can’t simply go off of the stamps inside the person’s passports if they’re using two or more different passports to travel between countries.  TO further complicate things, you have areas like the European Union where you can travel between countries without having your passport stamped by the individual countries.

The only way that I can see an effective travel ban put in place is if every concerned country basically took over the role of the immigration officers of the affected countries.  There would have to be a 100% containment of the countries checking everyone out as they depart the country.  Even that wouldn’t be a 100% guarantee of Ebola getting outside the affected countries.  The incubation period gives enough time for a person to test negative one week and then travel abroad the next before becoming ill and contagious.

The best possible method to deal with Ebola would be to build effective quarantine and treatment centers within the borders of the affected countries.  If adequate treatment is available at home, there is less incentive for someone to travel abroad if they’re knowingly ill.  The less contact sick people make, the less the virus has a chance to spread.

I understand the sentiment and concerns of those who are adamant about banning travel.  I’m also a realist, and there is no sure-fire way to monitor travel without forcing people to all register with some governmental authority in order to travel.  I can’t answer for anyone else, but I’m not even interested in contemplating such a thing.

Although the horse had already bolted from the barn, the best course of action any country could take was to assist the affected countries in trying to contain and treat those sick with the virus to try to avoid any further spreading.  The conditions of the hospitals and clinics there were basically a failure waiting to happen.  The much delayed response by the rest of the world ensured the failure was complete and massive.


4 thoughts on “Why a travel ban is useless

    • I understand the emotional appeal of a travel ban. I simply don’t think the emotional gratification trumps the long term consequences of focusing on stopping travel as opposed to focusing on upgrading medical infrastructure in the affected countries.


  1. The travel ban is another of those logic-free ideas you admire so much. Another I read is to quarantine all inbound international travelers to America for 21 days. I’m trying to think what facility in the metro area might have bed space for even one day’s international arrivals at Hartsfield-Jackson, let alone 21 days’ worth. Not to mention that of course the people floating this idea are the people who don’t believe government should pay for anything and will complain for decades about the cost of the flustercuck they want to create.


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