The Grave Risks Of A Travel Ban

The debate over whether to impose a travel ban on Ebola-afflicted countries strikes Rod Dreher as a culture-war battle in the making:

I learned over the weekend that to raise the question of whether or not we should refuse Ebola Virustravelers from Ebola-infected countries is to identify oneself as a right-wing nut, and possibly even a racist. Apparently — according to some liberal readers of this blog — Limbaugh and the usual suspects are working Ebola fears into political talking points. It is therefore required of all decent and right-thinking people to take the opposite position. So I’ve learned.

This is crazy, and dangerous. I haven’t checked, but I have no doubt that talk-radio loudmouths are making political hay about this stuff; it’s what they do. They are, in fact, the enemy of clear thinking — but so are those whose thinking is dictated by a compulsion to take the other side of whatever Limbaugh says.

McArdle fails to see why the notion of a travel ban is so controversial:

Ivory Coast cut off all travel from the affected areas in August, and if you look at maps of the outbreak, this actually seems to be controlling it pretty well within their borders. Even if all it did was buy the government time to prepare, that might help them lower their fatality rate.

You can still argue, of course, that such bans are inhumane and costly. But at least from the evidence we have, closing the borders does seem possible, so we should probably stop insisting that it isn’t. And we should stop acting as if this has any relevance to U.S. immigration policy, which takes place in a much different context, and over a different timeframe, from African travel in the time of an epidemic.

But Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman reiterate that there are sound, practical reasons to oppose a travel ban:

There are three reasons why it’s a crazy idea.

The first is that it just won’t work. In CDC Director Tom Freiden’s words, “Even when governments restrict travel and trade, people in affected countries still find a way to move and it is even harder to track them systematically.” In other words, determined people will find a way to cross borders anyway, but unlike at airports, we can’t track their movements.

The second is that it would actually make stopping the outbreak in West Africa more difficult. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “To completely seal off and don’t let planes in or out of the West African countries involved, then you could paradoxically make things much worse in the sense that you can’t get supplies in, you can’t get help in, you can’t get the kinds of things in there that we need to contain the epidemic.” …

The third reason closing borders is nuts is that it will devastate the economies of West Africa and further destroy the limited health systems there.

Aaron Blake examines how the public feels about it:

A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News shows 67 percent of people say they would support restricting entry to the United States from countries struggling with Ebola. Another 91 percent would like to see stricter screening procedures at U.S. airports in response to the disease’s spread. …

Concern about Ebola, at this point, is real but not pervasive. About two-thirds (65 percent) say they are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the United States. But while people are broadly concerned about an outbreak, they are not necessarily worried about that potential outbreak directly affecting them. Just 43 percent of people are worried about themselves or someone in their family becoming infected – including 20 percent who are “very worried.”

(Photo of the Ebola virus via Getty)