The Corner

Politics & Policy

Travel Ban Bad, Lockdown Good

People walk through a nearly empty Times Square in New York City during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, March 19, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

I wrote yesterday about the way high-status opinion on the danger of coronavirus shifted. The switch is so complete and so total as to make description of it almost impossible.

In late January and throughout February, the most influential people held that “travel restriction” from countries experiencing an emergency epidemic of a new virus was counterproductive, and probably racist, Vox told us (in an article that was rewritten from 2014). Our expert explainers elsewhere said that such restrictions were “also expensive, resource-intensive, and potentially harmful to the economies  of cities and countries involved.” They counseled that the focus should be on educating people to have better hygiene in airports, which is all well and good.

But of course, travel restriction is a way of buying time — it necessarily “flattens the curve.” It helps prevent your medical system from getting overwhelmed while doctors around the world learn mitigation strategies and treatment courses and begin working towards a vaccine.

No matter. A few weeks later and the same outlets love the lockdowns, in part because President Trump plainly hates them. But these lockdowns are also “expensive, resource-intensive, and potentially harmful to the economies of cities and countries involved.” Actually, let’s strike “potentially” — we know they are ruinous. Lockdowns are a much more intense form of travel restriction, but they don’t offend the ruling ideology, because the harshest costs in lost liberty and money are imposed on “us,” which is plainly better than imposing much less restrictive costs on a much smaller portion of “them.”

Or perhaps, this requires class analysis. Maybe our experts feel more affinity with business travelers from China than with their American neighbors who are unlikely to carry passports.

If only this dumb ideology would die of asphyxiation.

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