The New York Times reports that federal government is considering new rules “that would allow border officials to temporarily block an American citizen or legal permanent resident from returning to the United States from abroad if the authorities have reason to believe the person may be infected with the coronavirus.”
They’re just proposing this now. In August. When the virus first entered the U.S. in mid-January. Spread in the United States is greater than most other places in the world so this rule cannot possibly be aimed at preventing the introduction or spread of the virus in the United States.
The U.S. today bans travel by non-residents who have recently been to either Europe or China. And despite a resurgence in cases in some parts of Europe, prevalence of the virus in both places is far below that of the United States. It’s reasonable for China or Europe to say that on average they’re concerned about arrivals from the U.S. but a continued travel ban by the U.S. makes no sense.
It’s at least arguable in the case of Brazil which faces a similar ban, but again, the virus is already spreading here.
- The ban on arrivals from China was incompetently implemented. Passengers could enter via Vancouver. The CDC didn’t collect complete information on travelers, and faxed details one flight at a time to local health departments. The agency took its tracking system offline for a time and simply directed that everyone be let into the country in the interim.
- The ban on travelers from Europe came too late, after the virus had already entered the Northeast from there.
- No restrictions on travel were implemented within the United States allowing the virus to spread out from New York and elsewhere. Some states imposed quarantine restrictions on arrivals from high risk states. Florida only lifted its quarantine rule for travelers from New York last week.
- Countries with more confirmed cases per capita than the United States include Qatar; French Guiana; Bahrain; San Marino; Chile; Panama; Kuwait; Oman. There are no travel restrictions on people coming from these countries.
When the U.S. government limited international flight arrivals to a handful of airports, and began a health regime in hopes of detecting passengers carrying the virus, they didn’t actually find anyone. And remember that the greatest spread seems to be while people remain asymptomatic.
There’s no testing regime on arrival. Instead customs and border officials would block entry by American citizens based on a ‘reason to believe’ by officials that someone was infected.
To be sure it’s inadvisable for someone shedding the virus to fly to the U.S. (or anywhere), enter the country, pick up an Uber or use public transportation to their destiantion. But there’s no plausible reason to think that those who are actually a public health risk will be detected now, half a year into the pandemic, or that attempting to do so at this time will help bring spread of the virus under control.
- The 5,000,001st confirmed case or 6,000,001st confirmed case in the U.S. isn’t materially likely to alter the direction of virus spread (nor would adding 10,000 to the case count).
- A better approach would seem to be to quarantine suspected positive arriving passengers until a test determines whether they are infectious with the virus (as anyone with the virus should quarantine).
- CBP should have procedures and proper protective gear for working with sick travelers.
- But it seems like a bad idea to turn away such passengers at the border, potentially even demanding that airlines fly them back in a plane next to other passengers.
These challenges wouldn’t be any different, by the way, under a Biden administration. For all the U.S. policy failures, some of the gravest have come from limitations on the effectiveness of the bureaucracy implementing policy and that’s an entrenched feature of the government. Fortunately, despite policy blunders in the U.S., the country’s biomedical response has been world-leading (alongside the U.K.).