I suggest the Government's restriction on travellers from China is a discriminatory, political decision that isn't justified by public health considerations. What is the evidence for my claim?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to advise against travel bans for the control of infectious diseases like Ebola, influenza, Sars and Covid-19 (coronavirus). WHO notes that, at the very best, travel bans temporarily delay the onset of outbreaks.
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However, travel bans also encourage determined travellers to hide their recent movements – anecdotally, people are already arriving here from China via third countries.
Without accurate travel histories, immigration officials find it difficult to detect travel from high-risk countries. This compromises the education, self-isolation, and track-and-trace procedures underpinning modern public health responses.
Furthermore, travel bans encourage countries to under-report the number of people affected by an outbreak. By so doing these countries can reduce the risks to their economy posed by travel bans and retain access to international expertise, medicines and protective equipment.
Lastly, travel bans increase the perceived threat of a disease and they heighten discrimination and stigmatisation.
Consider how the other 194 member-states of WHO have responded to Covid-19. Only 41 have introduced travel bans in response to the virus. Many of these travel restrictions are narrowly targeted on Hubei province, where the virus originated, rather than the whole of China.
Fourteen of the 41 members that have introduced travel bans are "small island developing states" with fledgling health systems, such as those in the Caribbean and Pacific. Others are countries led by populist leaders, such as Australia and the USA.
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In contrast, the UK, Canada and Europe (except Poland) are among a large majority of WHO member states that have chosen to protect their people from Covid-19 by employing the public health strategies recommended by WHO rather than by travel restrictions. For example, the EU Commissioner for Health said the Commission welcomed "keeping the borders open" across the EU instead of "resorting to what could be considered disproportionate and inefficient measures".
The UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: "Overreaction has its costs too, economic and social, and so we have to keep the public safe, but we also need to act in a way that's proportionate."
The New Zealand Government has followed Australia on every step of this unfortunate journey. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison imposed travel restrictions from China on Saturday, February 1. The two Australasian prime ministers reportedly spoke on "multiple occasions" that same weekend and on Sunday, February 2, the New Zealand Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet had imposed travel restrictions on travellers from China.
Since then, the New Zealand extensions of the ban have been in lockstep with decisions by Australia.
Finally, the public health argument is illogical. Our Government has permitted more than 9000 New Zealand citizens, permanent residents, Australians and their dependents to return from China, with suitable self-isolation, in the past six weeks.
Not one of them has developed the disease, which is not surprising given that the incidence of coronavirus is less than 1 in 12,000 outside Hubei. But, at the same time, our Government has banned other visitors from China, most of whom (including 12,000 students) are, unsurprisingly, Chinese.
There is no earthly reason to believe that a Chinese person coming here from China is more likely to bring the disease than a Kiwi returning from that country: it is simply discrimination.
• Prof Stuart McCutcheon is the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland.