While travel bans may help reduce the spread of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), there are few data to suggest whether these travel restrictions would actually help to control the spread of these diseases in the long term, according to a review published in the Journal of Emergency Management.

Researchers from the University of Washington and John Hopkins University performed an integrative literature review of studies evaluating the use of travel bans targeted to reduce the spread of Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Ebola virus disease, and Zika virus disease. A total of 6 articles, which used models or simulations, met the inclusion criteria and underwent full review.

In a study on the Ebola virus, researchers observed that an average of 2.8 travelers with the virus exited affected countries, suggesting that the travel bans did not fully halt the migration of people affected by the virus. A modeling study on SARS used national and international civil aviation traffic and flight data for 500 large airports. The study found that isolating 2% of the population in the largest cities could reduce the amount of people in need of SARS-related immunization from 74.58% to approximately 37.5%.

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Another study using the Global Epidemic and Mobility model found that a 60% reduction in air traffic would increase the delay in Ebola virus spread from just a few days to a few weeks. Roughly 56% of countries would experience a <1-month delay in importation. A study using the same model found that a travel ban implementing an 80% reduction in airline traffic would significantly reduce the probability of the Ebola virus from being imported but only for a short period.

Limitations of the review included the small number of included studies as well as the lack of data aggregation, which would have assisted the researchers in reaching a firmer conclusion about travel bans and the spread of disease.

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The authors suggest that further “research is urgently needed to inform policy decisions on control measures that minimize the global spread of EIDs other than influenza, especially in light of the tremendous social, economic, and political impacts of their implementation.”


Errett NA, Sauer LM, Rutkow L. An integrative review of the limited evidence on international travel bans as an emerging infectious disease disaster control measure. J Emerg Manag. 2020;18(1):7-14.