New Research Shows Trump China Travel Ban Was Ineffective, And Europe Ban Came Too Late

Since the President first banned certain travel from China, I’ve written that travel bans – since extended to Europe (and separately the U.K.) and most recently Brazil – haven’t mattered much because the virus was already in the U.S. and spreading. I’ve argued that the policies were, essentially, closing the barn door after the horse was out.

After all, the first U.S. diagnosis of COVID-19 was a man who arrived in Seattle from Wuhan on January 15. However it turns out that person didn’t infect anyone, so the insertion of the virus into the U.S. petered out. It didn’t merely spread undetected in the U.S. during a time when there was very little testing.

However preprint (not yet peer reviewed) research suggests the opposite – that the cases that actually seeded the outbreaks in the U.S. weren’t already here when the travel bans were put into place. Instead, the actual cases that led to real virus spread entered the U.S. after, because the bans themselves were ineffectively implemented.

The U.S. banned entry to the U.S. by foreigners who had been to China in the past 14 days starting February 2. The index case that led to spread in Washington State and on to California appears to have entered the U.S. on or about February 13 (95% likelihood between February 7 – 19).

  • “40,000 US residents were repatriated from China, with screening described as cursory or lax”

  • “It is also possible that the virus entered via nearby Vancouver, British Columbia, which is closely linked to both China and Washington State.”

Credit: Michael Worobey et al “The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Europe and the US”

By banning travel only from China, and only by non-U.S. residents, and by failing to thoroughly screen arriving passengers for the virus (including asymptomatic passengers) China restrictions weren’t implemented effectively enough to contain SARS-CoV-2 at the start of February.

Meanwhile an initial outbreak in Bavaria is thought to have spread to Lonbardy, Italy and sparked the outbreak there. However this study finds that outbreak died out, and that Italy’s spread was sparked independently from China. It’s that Italian outbreak that appears to have entered New York on or about February 20 (95% likelihood between February 14 – 26) ultimately leading to spread there.

On March 11 the President announced a ban on non-resident travel from Europe beginning March 13. That, clearly, was too late to matter.

Credit: Michael Worobey et al “The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Europe and the US”

This suggests that the ban on travel from China was ineffective while it’s only the ban on travel from Europe that, as I’ve argued, came too late.

It also suggests that while China clearly less than forthcoming about the initial outbreak of the virus, and effectively assisted in coverup up by the World Health Organization up through January 15 (when the WHO declared there was still no evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus), there was still plenty of time to act to contain it.

Indeed, the people who brought the virus here which actually spread it into an outbreak didn’t arrive until around two weeks after the first travel ban was put into place by the U.S. government.

Perhaps appropriately for a pre-publication research paper it’s all academic. We know the administration’s travel bans failed to contain the virus because:

Credit: Johns Hopkins University

However the role travel bans play – whether they’re implemented effectively, when they matter – is of continuing importance as countries consider ‘opening up’. And this research causes me to revisit my priors about the timing of the ban on travel from China, as well as reminding me of the holes in the bans that were put into place.

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, 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. While our Idiot in Chief is just that. There are growing questions about what China knew and when. I strongly believe that this outbreak started long before they acknowledged it to the world (they started building hospitals the day they announced the outbreak in Wuhan (sp?), even in a communist nation, you just don’t pop up at 20 story hospital in 30 days. WHO is a joke and do support seperation from them. Donnie needs to let the CDC and NIH provide direction and quit thinking he know more about science (or anything) then they (or other true experts) do.

    If we start being smart, wear a mask, clean up and sanitize more frequently, we will do more to reduce the spread than sitting at home and waiting. Time for new travel rule, and limit any connection with China.

  2. Once you have extensive community transmission, a travel ban is ineffective – this seems to be widely agreed upon. And as you point out, Gary, once you’ve locked down, how do you open up without that community transmission increasing?

    Ultimately, local lockdowns are the most effective way of reducing transmission, as they – by default – reduce travel. The UK is a perfect example – they’d be better off testing everyone as they leave Leicester Square station, and then isolating them if positive, than testing and isolating people entering the country. Travel bans, on the other hand, are like pissing against the wind.

  3. Americans would love to blame foreigners for this, and people like @sunviking can speculate all they want about how it is somehow the Chinese’s fault — just like the guy you call the Idiot in Chief — Americans seem to be unable to come to grips with the fact that people in the USA are some of the least hygienic in the developed world. Even after months of Covid lockdown, one still commonly sees people spitting in the street (comically moving their mask down to do so) and also have nasty habits of spitting saliva covered chewing gum (which Americans love to make fun of Singaporeans for banning on the basis of hygiene) and cigarette butts on the sidewalk . . . not just before Covid, but today, after living with it and claiming to be careful about the spread of saliva borne germs enough to demand masks. This is an observation people can also make about Italy, Spain, France, UK, and many other places “hard-hit” by Covid.

    The Japanese (can also largely be said of Singaporeans, Taiwanese, Thais, etc.), on the other hand, who do none of these disgusting things — don’t spit on the street, don’t throw their gum on the ground and carry little pocket ashtrays for their cigarette butts instead of tossing them everywhere — had hardly any Covid and are now basically open.

    Covid is biological, and its nobody’s fault that its now loose in the world. The fault lies with dirty people who while insisting on harsh lockdowns and other overeactions, can’t be bothered to follow basic rules of civilized hygiene.

  4. Research? Facts?

    None of these things matter to Trump, his appointees, or his followers.

  5. Wouldn’t that imply that the China travel ban probably was effective, since the transmission chain had to take the long (and slower) route? Whereas an earlier Europe travel ban (or possibly earlier NYC lockdown) might have lead to small outbreaks like initially happened on the west coast instead of the massive spread in New York and elsewhere?

  6. Sunviking, you wrote ” Donnie needs to let the CDC and NIH provide direction and quit thinking he know more about science”

    Last time I checked, Trump has deferred to Dr. Fauci and done everything he wanted. Your ignorance is astounding. Your hatred of Trump doesn’t allow you to be objective of the facts which is he has followed the advice of Dr Fauci. If you should be upset with someone– it should actually be the CDC, third behind China and the WHO. Even then, this has spread to every Country and no Country would be immune. Russia, India, Brazil had more time to prep than the USA and cases are still rising.

    You argue that the transmission got into NYC around Feb 20th. Well, on FEb 20th- there were a grand total of 3 cases in Italy. There were not enough cases in Europe to warrant a travel ban on Europe. While Gary is a liberal, and likes to take shots at the President whenever he can, remember that Europe didn’t have a travel ban in place between it’s Countries either at the time.

    If China and the WHO had been more honest about the situation, then the USA and Europe would have been able to shut down travel between the Countries sooner. It wouldn’t have spread primarily from China to Italy, and Italy to the USA. 100% of the blame lies on CHina and the WHO for covering it up.

    3rd–you are using research from a bunch of Trump hating academics. The problem today is that everyone has an agenda– 99.9% of reporters/scientists have agenda’s and that bias is evident in all of their reports. They are just kind of guessing– as we have seen from all of the models that academia put out— they are pretty much all wrong by a WIDE margin. I could just as easily find 20 articles that the Travel bans did help.

    The biggest problem is the fact that the US didn’t implement a 14 day quarantine for anyone arriving back from China or Europe after the bans were implemented. I will say that the CDC really screwed the pooch here. Let me repeat that, so I don’t get any comments about being a Trump lover. (Didn’t vote for him.) But I am not emotional and have logical reasoning skills, so I can be objective.


    It should have been the biggest no brainer in the world– people coming back from Milan– yeah, you should quarantine. There were so many college kids studying abroad who are likely to show little to no symptoms that came back and I guarantee you, didn’t quarantine themselves.

    If I get the flu– and go to work and infect 50 people– it’s not Obama’s or Trump’s fault. It is up to people to be responsible for themselves. Washing hands and not touching their face when this event first started. Things not to do were not sending sick patients back into the nursing homes with the most vulnerable populations like the Gov of NY, PA, Michigan and NJ did. There is blood on their hands.

    There were big outbreaks in NYC- and NYC was one of the last states to shut down schools and encourage people to stay @ home. DeBlasio was telling people to go out to eat and go out. 35% of all of the cases in the USA are in the NY/NJ area. Had NYC been more aggressive, then it wouldn’t have been as bad. They knew teachers had Covid, and they still sent kids to school.

    So while the CDC does get some (well, ALOT of) blame for their failure to quarantine people coming back from China and Europe (like people would have quarantined themselves anyway,) and for the CDC’s slow response to getting tests— which would have been nice to have testing Americans coming back from Europe———overall– you can’t complain about the travel bans. Seriously, you guys would have lost your doo doo had Trump closed travel to Europe when there were just 3 confirmed cases in Italy, and none in alot of other European Countries.

    Just another lame article to allow you and your followers to bash Trump. Even though it’s really China, WHO’s, CDC, Gov Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio for the clusterfark of cases.

    Seriously this is getting so old. People on the left AND right. Some blame Trump no matter what, and some defend him regardless. I’m tired of these people and so should everyone here.

    There is right and wrong. Kids in cages– Trump is the devil. When the same people find out kids in cages happened under Obama— oh well, it’s cool then- lets quickly change the topic. It’s maddening. People don’t care about right or wrong- they only care about agreeing or opposing everything the President says. (Trump, Obama, BUsh, Clinton etc.)

    Criticize the President or any politician when they do something wrong. Praise them for when they do something right. But this blind hatred where people will automatically defend or criticize EVERYTHING a politician says or does is just madness. This is how you end up with Fascists and Nazi’s. People need to start defending what is right and wrong, not blindly defending your side bc it’s your side.

    Sincerely– someone who hates the far left and far right.

  7. Good news everyone – in 157 days, we’ll have a new POTUS, and the adults will finally return to governance. No more racism, nor grift, nor nepotism, no incompetence, no science denial. Can’t wait. Sadly things will get worse in the interim before they get better.

    Kudos to Twitter btw!

  8. Hilarious! More #FakeNews from this blog, LMFAO! Trump’s ban saved more lives and was even ridiculed by the lefty democRats the entire time for doing so (Pelosi in Chinatown, Deblasio in NYC, etc.) Thank God we’ll have more 4 more years of Trump unlike the previous buffoon obama who was the most corrupt and inept in USA history! No more climate nonsense (hoax), complete competence, no more race baiting (#Blexit), awesome! Keep that Trump train rolling! Best yet to come! #MAGA baby!

    Kudos to AG Barr and General Flynn!

  9. @UA-NYC – I wouldn’t put my faith in old Joey Slickfingers if I were you, or you’ll be quite disappointed come Election Day.

  10. That China was to blame for hiding the early spread of the virus is correct. But once the virus crosses into American it is up to the American government to work on protecting its citizens.

    Have a look at China’s death count compared to America. This is what effective response looks like in China versus what is happening now in the USA.

    I believe that the incompetent response to this pandemic will cost this so called commander in chief the elections this coming November.

  11. @Carrie – how do you figure that “Trump’s ban saved more lives”? There’s a study here showing that the virus came in from China after the ban was supposedly in place, and the major New York spread was already seeded before the Europe ban was announced. I’d love you to develop your argument, rather than just saying it’s true.

  12. @Joe – when the competition is The Worst US President In History, even a B candidate from the Dems won’t have much issue. PA, MI guaranteed to flip back to the Dems, AZ looking good, one of WI or NC should break too. No problem getting 270 EVs. RIP to a disastrous experiment.

  13. The yet-to-be peer reviewed research appears to be getting down-voted by the Trump University PhD’s in Biology and Epidemiology.

  14. Gary, please leave your left-wing news out and go back to flight and hotel reviews. We already have CNN for this.

  15. Someone take @Carrie to a prom and dump a bucket of blood on her head. Maybe the bucket will hit her in the head and knock some sense into her.

  16. LOL Gary. The idiocy from you and folks like UA-NYC is hilarious. Still trying to figure out if y’all are just The Onion writers.

    Keep it up!

  17. @Colin – let’s see your counterpoint chump.

    Oh the POTUS you undoubtedly support sent another racist tweet today while trying to incite violence. Cool by you I’m assuming.

  18. @UA-NYC – Oh I remember that same arrogance four years ago, right up until the moment the smuggery was wiped from millions of leftists around the globe.

    Good luck.

  19. I’m going to take exception to suggesting large numbers of the virus entered the US from Vancouver due to its proximity to WA state. WA was a breeding ground for Covid early on
    In the entire province of BC (population 5.1 million) they have recorded to date a total of 2500 cases (testing rate 27;000/1M). Active cases are now down in the 200s

  20. So what would you smart-arses have done?

    If he didn’t stop China Virus spreading from China and Europe, you would have been whingeing. And because he did do something, you are still whingeing.

    Stop complaining about everything the President does. For Christs sake. Aren’t we all in this to-fucking-gether.

    So go on smart-arse, know-all, tell me, what you you people have done? Any wonder America is on the verge of civil war. What an uncivilized rowdy and criminal bunch the Left have become.

  21. @robbo Really? Its not what he did but rather than he and his crew didnt do, with during the subsequent weeks. Other countries were busy stockpiling PPE, building testing capabilites and preparing for the worst while Trump fiddled away. The Trump pandemic will be the legacy of his presidency.

  22. Yes, the bans came late; lives were lost as a consequence. But the more egregious failure involved the non-enforcement of quarantine for returning citizens. Presumably responsibility for that was ultimately Trump ( as advised by the Svengali-like son-in-law).
    It is telling that a very significant proportion of the early cases in Australia involved travelers returning from the USA…at a time when Trump was still in full-on denial ( noteworthy that Australian authorities were saying at the time that there were tens if not hundreds of thousands of cases in the USA, extrapolated from the very high number of + returnees, from all over the USA; Trump was saying it’s all okay)
    Under the circumstances it’s hard to rejoice in the certainty that this will see him unceremoniously booted from office in disgrace…but good riddance to him and his entire cretinous family…

  23. WHO said on January 23: “It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO. Technical advice is available on the WHO website.”

    Those who followed the advice and did containment are faring well — and this includes not-wealthy countries bordering China (Vietnam, Laos). Those who did not are doing awful, and one egregious idiot is even pulling out of the WHO to solidify his country’s decline — and ensure future pandemics.

  24. @Joe – 2016 was a black swan event – electing an “outsider” sounded great, til that outsider 3.5 years in is acknowledged as the 45th best president in US history (out of 45).

    Better start getting behind B-listers like Cotton, Hawley, Haley, and prepping for in 2024!

  25. @UA-NYC. I am just curious, are you just a crazy guy. Obsessed with one thing to the exclusion of all else. I’ll bet you’re are so nuts about the 2016 election that you cannot even enjoy a nice glass wine, with a beautiful woman. You should go get some help, before you turn psycho and run amok.

    Definition: Amok: “an episode of sudden mass assault against people or objects usually by a single individual following a period of brooding that has traditionally been regarded as occurring especially in Malaysian culture but is now increasingly viewed as psychopathological behavior occurring worldwide in numerous countries and cultures”

  26. @UA-NYC – so how many flat screens did you end up looting? what a piece of shit. You are nothing but a profound idiot.

  27. Why don’t you move your biased anti-Trump liberal talking points to some political forum so you can feed the frenzy of those who choose to buy off on this liberal election year rebel rousing nonsense!

  28. President Trump, kindly respect the office, saved hundreds of thousands with his travel bags. Projections were much higher than the current total

    Making America safe, if the Prssident is able to stop the fraud from mail balloting we will have a four more great years.

    Great move on withdrawing funding for WHO
    This is such a leftist blog

  29. I’m out. You want to consider yourself: “one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel”, than stick to what you know. I am sick of reading political ideas on this post. Not what I am looking for. Done. Not coming back.

  30. @Carrie
    @Other Just Sayin
    Wow, lots of boot-licking Trump evangelists on this form in the last couple of days. Trump is the most corrupt president in the history of the nation, surpassing even Reagan.
    Here’s the thing: If you ok with AG Barr acting as the presidents attorney, if you support Flynn despite his admission to lying to the FBI, if you are ok with the Commander in Thief firing Inspector Generals and replacing them with sycophants, then you really do not believe in the rule of law, the American ideal or the Constitution. You are a fake Americans and a fake patriots. Maybe you should be Putin your eggs in another basket.

  31. Typical FAKE NEWS. Typical comments from of all the little insignificant nationalities that would cut their left nut off to be an American. You little ankle biters can keep your comments about the American President to yourself. Must make you feel so powerful to Type some characters in a forum that means nothing to anyone. Did you thank your wife for allowing you to speak today? PATHETIC

  32. @Emmanuel Ruiz – as I have said many times, there are a lot of semi-smart racists/trolls/Q worshippers who for some reason congregate on this site…you are just a dumb troll.

  33. @SJ – great, WR2 has already left, please take the racist Other Just Saying with you and that’s a good trifecta of departures for the week!

  34. @OJS – much like Trump who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple, you and your MAGA cronies truly, genuinely thought 2016 was the start of some Alt Right, anti-science, anti-climate change, Roe-overturning, vote surpressing, furriner bannin’, movement.

    Guess what? The “fun” 4 year experiment is over, 8 year Obama bull market long gone, 100K Americans dead in 2.5 months and your president is tweeting conspiracy theories and doing his best to incite violence with racist phrases. Enjoy your final 5.5 months before the adults take back over and your Three Percenter compatriots are banished back into the shadows, no longer championed by POTUS.

  35. And one more thought – WOW these MAGA trolls have turned into quite the snowflakes these days w.r.t. any Agent Orange criticism…too funny!

  36. GARY Leffty is so far Left he can see straight. The people here calling the President a racist can’t see straight. But when Creepy Joe says racist stuff these same Lefty’s look the other way as though his words were never even spoken. Their are plenty of models that show shutting flight from China saved lives along with common sense. The You tube videos of Lefty’s eating their own words is and has been great to watch. And in a few more months I believe more will be there to watch unless You Tube blocks them.

  37. This was one of the bestvTRAVEL site until you became an anti Trump site. It is easy to be an armchair Monday morning quarter back. Not one word was written by you are the first introduction of the Wuhan virus. Easy to say what should been done in hindsight. Typical Dumocrate
    Count me out as of now

  38. @Gerald Hansen – If you are getting “anti-trump” as the point of this post then you are doing it wrong.

    As far as “Not one word was written by you are the first introduction of the Wuhan virus.” I’m not sure what this means, what it has to do with the topic, but I believe I was the first blog to talk about the virus in mid-January.

  39. @Walter – apparently a majority of Americans “can’t see straight”, as a majority do think Trump’s a racist (2019 poll, likely higher in 2020 unsurprisingly)

  40. @sunviking82

    Morons like you were calling President Trump racist for initiating the travel bans, and now you want to say it was too late. You sound as senile as Creepy Joe Biden.

  41. To all those who are proclaiming that Trump did a great job… seriously, get a grip on reality. Here in Australia the government brought in a travel ban from China early (while Trump was still saying what a great leader Xi Jipeng is) and brought in further quarantine requirements for incoming travellers as new evidence warranted. Followed by lockdowns dictated at a state level. Net result: excluding returning citizens in quarantine we have less than 10 new cases a day (in a population of 25 million) and have had a total of 7200 cases and 103 deaths – about 100x better than the USA.

  42. @ andy

    No one cares about a bunch of drunken idiots. You haven’t even a fraction of the international travel the US has, nor do you have the population densities.

  43. What a flat out stupid opinionated article. This article is so filled with TDS it is pathetic.

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