The World Health Organization said open borders would help fight disease. Experts, and a global treaty, emphatically agreed. But the scientific evidence was never behind them.
When the coronavirus emerged in China in January, the World Health Organization didn’t flinch in its advice: Do not restrict travel.
But what is now clear is that the policy was about politics and economics more than public health.
Public health records, scores of scientific studies and interviews with more than two dozen experts show the policy of unobstructed travel was never based on hard science. It was a political decision, recast as health advice, which emerged after a plague outbreak in India in the 1990s. By the time Covid-19 surfaced, it had become an article of faith.
“It’s part of the religion of global health: Travel and trade restrictions are bad,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who helped write the global rules known as the International Health Regulations. “I’m one of the congregants.”
Covid-19 has shattered that faith. Before the pandemic, a few studies had demonstrated that travel restrictions delayed, but did not stop, the spread of SARS, pandemic flu and Ebola. Most, however, were based on mathematical models. No one had collected real-world data. The effect of travel restrictions on the spread of the latest coronavirus is still not understood.
As scientists worldwide race to make a vaccine, understanding the role of travel in a pandemic — and what types of restrictions could prove effective — is also critical, if likely to take much longer. This month, the W.H.O. began another review of the international health regulations.
Dr. Heymann, who helped shape the last revision, acknowledges that the current regulations “are not fit for purpose on travel and trade.”
“More and more,” Dr. Heymann said, “we’re understanding that there are some times when travel and trade might need to be restricted.”
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/world/europe/ski-party-pandemic-travel-coronavirus.html
The rest of the NYT article is well worth a read, it provides a lot of context to their assertion the WHO made a scientifically unsound call.
President Trump likely saved countless lives, by closing the US border to China in early February, against WHO advice – advice we now know was deeply flawed. Even slowing a dangerous disease down saves lives, by reducing the risk of overwhelming hospital and medical services.
At the time of the border closure, President Trump faced widespread criticism, including an attack from Democrat candidate Joe Biden, who accused Trump of “Xenophobia”.
Joe Biden opposed the China travel restrictions wisely put in place by President Trump in January – restrictions that health experts credit with slowing the spread of coronavirus & saving lives.
If Biden had been in charge, more Americans would have contracted the virus faster. pic.twitter.com/yDXRYl6lOk
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) March 12, 2020
While I applaud the New York Times admitting the WHO let everyone down, I would have been more impressed had NYT taken an extra step, and discussed the implications of this revelation for US policy.
Politicians who advocate placing blind faith in experts, without demanding a personal review and evaluating the evidence for themselves, leave their nations at the mercy of groupthink, institutional incompetence and hidden agendas, as the shameful exposure of the WHO’s inept handling of Covid-19 has demonstrated.