It’s Time To Lift U.S. Travel Restrictions On China And Europe

For countries in the containment stage – where the virus isn’t actively spreading – it makes sense to take extreme efforts to avoid introducing the virus.

For countries where the virus is actively spreading, bringing in marginally more cases doesn’t change the trajectory of the virus.

It makes zero sense, though, to ban travel by non-U.S. residents who have been to Europe or China in the last 14 days while not banning travel from Russia, Mexico, Qatar, India, Iran.

Spread of the virus has declined significantly in Italy, France, and Germany. While no longer in the exponential growth stage, new cases in the U.S. have plateaued at a little over 20,000 per day.

Travel restrictions are not a logical policy to keep in place everywhere in response to SARS-CoV-2.

  • Brazil currently isn’t permitting entry into the country by anyone that isn’t a citizen or resident.

  • Brazil is experiencing faster growth of the virus than the U.S. with more new cases in most recent days despite a smaller population.

It’s understandable why people would avoid traveling to Brazil. But what is the Brazilian government afraid of, that an Icelandic resident might add one new case a day to the 20,000 – 30,000 confirmeds each day Brazil is already experiencing?

Spain and Italy are down to 200 – 300 new confirmed cases each per day. If every one of those people traveled to the U.S. and stayed in a major city where the virus is already circulating it’s unlikely to alter the trajectory of the virus. Though of course that’s not how opening travel works.

The China travel ban failed because the CDC blew its implementation and the Europe travel ban came too late. Those were policies that might have helped if implemented at the right time and in the right way back in January and February. But they no longer make sense in June.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] 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. […]

Comments

  1. Unfortunately it likely won’t get lifted until they lift theirs. It’s about reciprocity.

  2. I (unusually) 100% agree with you, Gary 🙂

    If the USA is so concerned about community or imported transmission, a competent testing and tracing regime might help. But border closures and travel restrictions at this stage is just political posturing with no scientific basis. Enough is enough.

  3. 20K a day is still a lot, R0 must be barely below 1. Every increase in mobility increases R0. I would say we should all go back to the office and school and see if R0 gets bigger than 1. If it doesn’t then lift the restrictions.

  4. 20k a day is .006% of the US population (yes, 6 thousandths of a percent).
    It’s so small to be laughable.

    With the CDC showing the IFR ~ .26%
    That’s .000015% of the population that could die each day with or from Covid-19
    It’s 52 people.
    Out of 330MILLION

    We’re not at lottery odds yet, but… we’re getting close.
    The fact that there are *any* restrictions at all at this point, or anyone is still talking about this, is now only because they have some agenda to push.

    There is no statistical reason why anyone should be thinking about this on any level at this point.
    None.

  5. After seeing on TV all the BLM protests/marches where people work masks but was really almost impossible to social distance, I’m curious to see if there are spikes here in NYC area and other cities within next few days.

  6. Howard couldn’t be more right. This is all so ridiculous. Howard is also talking about the overall number – when you look at specific demographics, like people under 40 or under 50 it’s even more laughable how low the odds are that you will even be hospitalized, let alone die.

  7. I cant see Europe opening borders to the US anytime soon. Most countries have pushed infections down into the low double digits. The US is still hotbed of corona… and will probably be right thru next spring.

  8. @flynow, Howard doesn’t understand science or statistics. A study recently showed that lockdowns prevented over 60 million infections in the U.S. alone. Saying 20,000 people and 52 dead Americans “a day” is an insignificant number shows a lack of basic understanding of exponential growth. Not to mention basic addition and subtraction. Don’t be like Howard.

  9. “The China travel ban failed because the CDC blew its implementation and the Europe travel ban came too late. Those were policies that might have helped if implemented at the right time and in the right way back in January and February.” To this I point out that “Hindsight is a coldhearted bitch. We can never go back and change those moments that take us off course; we just have to learn to live with our choices.” — Maggi Myers, Lily Love

    Back in January and February nobody had any idea that the virus had already made landfall, there was no DNA study to trace its path from China to Europe to New York and beyond. Sure, in hindsight the CDC made mistakes, but look at the information, or disinformation (China) that they were receiving.

    As for Joey’s comments about BLM’s call to the streets, he has a good point. Blacks are a high risk population, not the least of the reasons why is that they have a much higher incidence and fatality with asthma. (The Jewish population also has a higher incidence.) C19 is C4 for those with asthma as I am sure Surgeon General Jerome Adams is aware. After your first trip to an ICU for a severe asthma, flu, or pneumonia attack you religiously get flu and pneumonia shots and take precautions to preserve your health. Calling blacks to the streets during a pandemic is criminal. Needless black deaths will follow, likely among the elderly relatives or children of the protesters. BLM lit a fire, but it is burning down their own house.

  10. @Joey There were fully open casinos, bars and other events that didn’t even HAVE a political bent to them, where NO ONE generally wore masks in the last week. Amazingly, our infection rate is at the highest ever in many states now. This is the time to be staying home, and taking care of our own citizens, just like every other country generally is doing. Infections are going UP (except in NY), and other countries don’t want to see Americans there either. Patience is a virtue.

  11. I forgot to mention that its the law (set by Trump) that people must show full medical coverage to come into the US. Please show me any insurance company that right now would insure people from another country to come into the USA and NOT get ill?

  12. Michael,

    As someone who has an MS in stats, I can tell you the ‘stats’ very clearly show the demographic lines of this virus. People like you, love to apply your numbers equally to the entire population because it makes things seem worse than they are. Where is your 60,000,000 number coming from? let me guess, you saw it on CNN or some FB meme. NY state was singing the apocalypse song when this started…oh no, all the models are showing we will run out of ventilators, we need 30,000 more, we need a hospital ship, we need new hospitals build everywhere and that still won’t save us even with all the distancing protocols. Well, the hospital ship was never used, the new 1 temp hospital was built and never used and never came anywhere near the ventilator use. Not to mention, the stats showed that by the time you needed a ventilator you were dead anyway. How about all those college spring breakers – did a single one die after the national uprising about how stupid they all were. As for your 60,000,000 infections….27% of the population is over 55. Let’s say 30% – 18,000,000 are in the high risk group. Over 55 accounted for over 90% of deaths (and anyone under 55 who died had underlying conditions [obesity, immune disorders] except for some outliers). Don’t apply your math equally to everyone. Fact is, if you are under 40 the virus has no effect on your health, or not one any worse than just getting up in the morning.

  13. I really miss traveling and now wouldn’t have any concerns about my own well-being traveling to China or other countries that have managed the pandemic well. However, the travel bans are protecting people in China and Europe from the spikes they would have if residents from the US start visiting.

  14. @Jon W – I’m not making an argument about what China should do, U.S. rules about who can enter this country don’t do much to protect people in other countries – except perhaps by keeping people out, those people then do not RETURN to those countries. But the restrictions on citizens of other countries are really the role of travel rules that those countries have.

    My point is that U.S. travel bans on China and Europe are not doing anything to meaningfully protect the U.S.

  15. As an expat who is now a resident of Malta, I see how hard the government of Malta, along with its citizens worked to get the R rate to below .4. No one here is any hurry to welcome tourists from the U.S. The Maltese took the restrictions seriously. And no one parades around with assault rifles. I will be happy to vacation in a safe Finland.

  16. @FlyNow the study was produced by UC Berkely, not CNN or some other media outlet.

    In the first peer-reviewed analysis of local, regional and national policies, the researchers found that travel restrictions, business and school closures, shelter-in-place orders and other non-pharmaceutical interventions averted roughly 530 million COVID-19 infections across the six countries in the study period ending April 6. Of these infections, 62 million would likely have been “confirmed cases,” given limited testing in each country.

  17. For Pete’s sake! While a forest fire remains small, much focus is put to limiting and eliminating those small outbreaks that start when sparks fly up to miles ahead for the front lines. This is analogous to travel bans with Covid-19. Only when the forest is considered “lost” do forest fighters step back and let it burn out.

  18. @Mark, me thinks @FlyNow got his MS in stats from Trump University. I don’t know if it’s true, but many people are saying that.

  19. Completely agree and yet another US policy that is appreciated for its supposedly good intentions rather than its effectiveness. Blanket bans overwhelmingly prevent travel by healthy people, and are not only misguided, but idiotic. They are of a piece with the counterproductive and foolish US/European lockdown mentality which kept mostly healthy/robust people indoors (while failing to protect those in nursing homes most susceptible to the disease). Healthy people should be permitted to travel, regardless of where they’re from.

  20. Gary, right you are. It’s illogical. Iceland is opening up to Americans, with protocols to insure that Americans don’t bring it to Iceland. Why wouldn’t that work for the EU and UK, for example. If there are mutual protocols to confirm that travellers aren’t infected, then why in the world insist on mutual quarantines?

  21. Meanwhile in Texas they are opening up and on their third straight day of record hospitalizations. No shock that countries wouldn’t want people from the US coming to where they live. Who the heck wants infected tourists coming in?

  22. Removing the travel bans too early, may provide an opportunity to repeat the mistakes made in january and feb. again in october and november. Logically, does this make sense Gary?

  23. Lol – ok great, so it was Berkely, now we know to God’s certainty that the numbers are right and every other model out there was dead wrong since 2 can’t be right at the same time – still doesn’t change what I’m saying. I love how you people say that with such absolute certainty, with the same certainty you know over time each number on a die will be rolled 1/6th of the time. Great, I study says we avert that number. The issue you still have not addressed is the disproportional effect across demographics. Nobody can argue that – I’m talking about what the data has shown actually happened not a dine a dozen model that said what could have happened. If you live in a town with 1 person over 75 and 99 under 30 would you really still advocate locking down the whole town or would you adjust you restrictions based on what the data actually shows? What if the ratio was 2/98 3/97….there is a range where you tailor restrictions to certain groups instead of applying them equally to everyone.

  24. @flynow nobody is saying that. I understand the demographics and that the majority of the deaths have been in nursing homes. Montana’s population density and likelihood of spread isn’t the same as New Jersey, and not one size fits all. It is also false that anyone under 40 the virus has no effect on your health, especially given the degree of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and chronic illnesses saddling the U.S. population, regardless of age. There is a reason we have 4% of the world’s population, but 25% of the deaths (there’s data for you). What I take issue with is you downplaying the seriousness of the illness. Howard’s math on the likelihood of infection or death is stupid. When you come right out of the gate criticizing the NY Gov for doing his actual job that he’s getting paid to do of preparing the state for the uptick in cases, saying I must have heard the 60 million number on CNN or Facebook, and then when pointed to the actual peer-reviewed study, without reading it, saying it must be wrong, I question your objectivity with numbers, and whether you actually want to rely on data as you fervently claim to be an expert on.

  25. I think the travel restrictions are a good idea. We should keep them in place until the virus is less widespread around the world.

  26. It is literally ridiculous. Switzerland with a bit more than 8Mio inhabitants has currently about 10-20 new cases per day (which ist not due the lack of testing), whereas for example Massachusetts with less inhabitants has a significant drop in new cases but still about 300-400 new cases per day. Whereas Switzerland and other European countries should still be afraid of American tourists, it makes no sense to keep Europeans out of the country.

  27. The China travel ban was very effective actually. Genome testing has indicated most of the cases in the U.S. are from Europe and Iran. Most of the China cases were contained in California and Washington. Without the China ban, there would have been a lot more spread.

    I don’t understand the desire to end foreign travel restrictions. We want to open up at home because of fundamental freedoms being infringed by the government. But why are you pressing travel between countries. How does that help anyone. Why can’t there be one year without foreign travel.

    New cases in India were dropping significantly and now they are going up again. Why take the risk. Europe might be getting better but why encourage people who are going to travel around instead of staying in place like local residents. I don’t understand it aside from visiting family.

  28. I have traveled to Europe 6 weeks to 7 months annually for the last 27 years. All I can tell you is that I’d rather be in the USA hospital than anywhere else!

  29. 100% agree. China is one of the safest places in the world right now. But…politics; this administration does not look at science or facts, so here we are.

    Some people still don’t understand the power of exponential infection. While the overall risk of COVID-19 in the U.S. at the moment is equivalent to the risk associated with jumping out of a plane with a parachute 7 times a day, every day including weekends, without precautions it WILL go back to infect — and kill — masses like it did in New York.

    Interestingly throughout the pandemic the epidemiologists predicted just about everything +/- 10% right (e.g cities like San Francisco who locked down early fared far better than those who did not, even if San Francisco as a high number of contacts with China and on and on) while politicians got everything wrong (it’s just like the flu, it will go away on its own, snake oil works, etc.) and even put words into epidemiologists’ mouths to create more fake news.

  30. @flynow — the Berkeley study is nothing new: every single pandemic showed similar results — even economic ones https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2020/03/fight-the-pandemic-save-the-economy-lessons-from-the-1918-flu.html This was already well known in February; you have a science degree, so you can read the explanation of why timing is so crucial at https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/joelmiller/files/the_timing_of_one_off_interventions_for_epidemic_control.pdf

    And as you are a trained scientist you should compare the data — on deaths and economy — between Sweden and the three countries it borders, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Sweden followed the US model of late intervention (maybe more deliberately), the other 3 followed the epidemiological’s scientific-driven recommendations of early intervention. Add Brazil vs Chile in the mix.

  31. I miss my fiance in America I want to be able to see him again even if I have to be tested and quarentined on arrival

  32. I’m an Englishman in New York, well I was. I’m now an Englishman stuck in the U.K. unable to fly to my hike and business in nyc due to the travel ban. I employ Americans. We actually find people jobs and I’m at a bit of a loss as to what reason there would be for me to no be allowed to return? My E2 visa means nothing it would seem and the fact that if I can’t return soon my business will fold and the great American people that represent my business will become unemployed. Issue. The Americans can still come into the U.K. so why can’t I return. Happy to quarantine or be tested etc. It’s all very strange and seems like some bad decisions being made.

  33. Yes, Gary,

    You are 100% correct- both the China travel ban and the European travel ban should be lifted. They do nothing to reduce the rate of infection in the US, while there are significant business and family impacts.

    As for all the amateur epidemiologists, like Howard- at least get your facts right. If you want to extrapolate death rates from diagnosed cases, then you have to use the current case fatality rates. There were 2.06M people diagnosed with Coronavirus, 115K of them have died- that’s a 5.6% death fatality rate, though the WHO says globally it’s more like 3.4% . The CDC calculated an infection estimate rate of 0.26% based on the much higher number of people who they estimate were infected with Coronavirus.

    So out of 20,000 people a day who are diagnosed with Coronavirus, we would expect around 1,100 of them to die, based on historical rates. Alternately you can go with the CDC estimate of 22x infection/diagnosis (yes, that’s mathematically how a 0.26% death rate works out), and say there are currently 430,000 people a day catching Coronavirus in the US, of which, again, 1,100 will die.

    Hopefully it’ll be something smaller than that, as the most vulnerable populations were hit early on, but statistically, that’s what the data says. Not 56 people.

  34. Are there any news about the travel ban coming? It is horrible, i am away from my pregnant wife and my job in the US and i can do nothing to come back. It is just ridiculous.

  35. I’m European, living in New York on an L1 work visa for the past 3 years. My issue with this travel ban is; why is there only an exception for people with a US passport and greencard to be able to enter the US? I understand the US Government may want to keep out European tourists for now, but not people who actually live and work here?! Test me, quarantine me upon returning to the US, that’s all fine! My grandmother passed away this morning, and I will not be able to attend her funeral in Europe because I might very well be barred from entering the USA for a few months and lose a job where a lof of people rely on me. At the same time, I can’t get my VISA the required stamp abroad for it’s 2 year extension because all the US consulates abroad are closed for non-Americans… This ban is unnecessarily harsh and creates economic and social pain for both Europeans and Americans.

  36. I agree with you Gary.

    It doesn’t make much sense to me considering the birders in the u.k are open to all travellers providing they quarantine. U.K airlines and airports are putting measures into place such as providing up to date covid tests before boarding the flight, distancing spots at the airport and staff wearing ppe etc. I could provide I pose no risk of spreading the virus. I am worried about how economies are being affecting and selfishly, I am desperate to see my partner who lives in the u.s.

  37. Travel bans play into the populist “US First” strategy. The strategy is easier to employ if you just ban everybody from coming in.

  38. Reading many of these comments made me emotional. There is no ban on US citizens entering the UK yet we cannot go to the US. This has had an impact on my mental health as my partner and his son, who sees me as his mother as his birth mother abandoned him, are devastated by this separation. Please President Trump lift the ban and test and quarantine us.

  39. Some can do the stat analysis. Seasonal flu for the 2017 season estimated death was 291k-646k worldwide (Source CDC????) So forget about this exponential guano some of you are talking about. It will not happen except for the doom and gloom crowd. Doing basic math I avg the two limits: 469k deaths due to seasonal flu, divided by 365 days to be more conservative = 1,285 deaths per day. This means that many more cases will come up every day. So stop the non sense about spikes here or there. It’s going to happen. Actually, I think the testing has been trivialized so much that I ask where is Tom Hanks. The media certainly feasted on the news. This was for 2017 and every year numbers are essentially the same. No lockdowns, no travel bans, etc. In fact many people don’t even know it or care, but now with this glorified flu AKA as covid people are up in arms. We didn’t need to follow the world pattern of blanket lockdowns, etc. I read some of these comments and amazes me how some have more confidence in European medicine and tech than in ours. Either way I say US first Yes, yes, yes, because on matter how things would have turn out some have only one goal in mind. You come up with it for the smart ones here. Stay safe.

  40. Citizen between 0 to 65 should be allowed to travel from European countries to usa and Canada and otherway around we all live in civilization and good medical care nobody travels when feels sick European countries have opened the borders and it fine now

  41. I am a UK citizen with an E2 visa who has been living in New York. I have been stuck in the UK now since March whilst my wife is still in New York. I can understand the logic of imposing travel bans on tourists etc wishing to come to US but surely people like myself should be allowed back home provided we are tested and quarantined. As things stand i am indefinitely separated from my wife.

  42. If we consider that reciprocity is what is pushing political decisions right now, the first step should be to lift the travel restrictions for people who have valid work visas and want to enter the US. EU is allowing anyone with a valid long-term visa to enter.
    Letting people who work and pay taxes in the US would be reciprocity.

    That being said, I am a French citizen with a L1 visa, stuck in France since March so I am pleading my own cause here. If you think about the political and/or economic rationale behind this ban on workers, it makes no sense. Most of us are remote working because our companies offices are still closed, we still get paid, we did not lose our jobs because we are outside of the US and we are not going to be affected by the last executive order on visas because we already hold them. The only difference is that we do not spend our money in the US, when the economy is needing it.

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