Travel bans usually ineffective, says think tank chief

China has banned group international travel from Wuhan, while Malaysia has suspended visas for people in Wuhan and surrounding areas. (AP pic)

PETALING JAYA: Travel bans are usually ineffective in suppressing contagious viruses as the initiative usually comes long after a virus has spread, according to the head of a health policy centre.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said the containment period for the novel coronavirus had passed long ago.

China’s ban on international group travel could have been effective if it was implemented months earlier, he said.

“The ban was put in place after many people had already left Wuhan and other cities, so it had already had a chance to spread. However, you can’t put a travel lockdown before there’s a reason to put such a drastic measure in place. And by then, it’s too late,” he told FMT.

Azrul Mohd Khalib.

While travel bans are capable of delaying the spread with the reduced movement of people, Azrul said past cases have proven that it would not work particularly for the virally infectious coronavirus.

“Viruses, bacteria or pathogens do not recognise such borders. The virus is already moving rapidly across the globe, thanks to air travel and the holiday season.

“Public health experience and epidemiological evidence from previous outbreaks of coronavirus, tell us that travel bans simply will not work for this type of viral infection.

“Travel bans convey a false sense of security, implying that the population would be protected,” he added.

He said it is possible that the situation in China might be worse than it seemed. He said the Chinese government should be more transparent about the outbreak.

“The Chinese government was giving the impression that things were pretty much under control for months. Therefore the decision to implement these extensive travel bans was quite surprising and suggests the opposite of what the government there claimed.”

The Malaysian Medical Association has lauded Malaysia’s suspension of visas for Chinese citizens from Wuhan, Hubei province and surrounding areas.

MMA president Dr N Ganabaskaran said the government made the right decision as the particular city and province recorded a higher number of cases than any other region.

He also said it would be unnecessary for the suspension to be extended to all Chinese nationals, adding that such a move would be purely out of panic.

Azrul said the suspension was “inevitable” after more than 380,000 Malaysians threw their support behind a petition pushing for Putrajaya to ban China nationals from entering the nation.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced the suspension yesterday (which includes visa-free entry, visa-on-arrival, electronic visa and manual visas) over fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus here.