The United Kingdom is dealing with a new strain of COVID-19 that is reportedly 70 percent more infectious than the previous one — though there’s no evidence yet that it is any more lethal. With British infections doubling in the past two weeks, Boris Johnson has shut London and much of the southeast of England. Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Israel, and other countries have implemented travel bans from the U.K.
When asked if the United States should follow, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who I assume will continue in his role under Joe Biden, advised against implementing border restrictions: “Travel bans are really rather draconian things to do … it is entirely conceivable that it’s already here.”
It’s fascinating to hear our political and expert class talk about our seemingly arbitrary coronavirus policy. Fauci apparently believes a travel ban is more “draconian” than instructing 330 million Americans not to see their families on Thanksgiving. I mean, is imposing a temporary travel ban to slow the importation of a potential super strain of coronavirus any more “draconian” than allowing governors to unilaterally ignore the Constitution and shut down religious services? Is it more draconian than destroying entire industries in major cities on scant evidence? Or keeping kids out of schools despite there being no evidence that such policies mitigate the spread of coronavirus in any substantial way?
Back when liberal pundits were pretending Europe was outperforming the United States on the pandemic front, countries that they pointed to as policy exemplars … Germany, Spain, Italy … well, basically every one of them had implemented some form of travel ban, and no one claimed it was “draconian.” When the European Union banned Americans travelers, some pundits mentioned it to gleefully accentuate how terrible we are – “The EU ban should be a wake-up call for the US. But will it be?” — but none, as far as I can tell, claimed the EU travel ban was draconian or ineffective. Then-Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden, in fact, reversed course to support Donald Trump’s China travel ban.
There are hundreds of pieces explaining why travel bans don’t work – well, when Americans want to implement them, at least. I have no special scientific insight on the matter. Or, I should say, I have roughly the same amount of expertise as Andrew Cuomo. Still, I’m a bit skeptical. Sure, the super strain is likely already here. But surely limiting the travel of foreigners who have it offers some modest benefits in any effort to contain new outbreaks. Whatever the case, it would not be a draconian measure.