WHO says travel bans cannot be indefinite; countries must fight coronavirus

A traveller wearing a face mask walks at the Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues, in London, Britain, July 26, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

GENEVA - Bans on international travel cannot stay in place indefinitely, and countries are going to have to do more to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus within their borders, the World Health Organization said on Monday (July 27).

A surge of infections has prompted countries to reimpose some travel restrictions in recent days, with Britain throwing the reopening of Europe’s tourism industry into disarray by ordering a quarantine on travellers returning from Spain.

Only with strict adherence to health measures, from faysal testing masks to avoiding crowds, would the world manage to beat the Covid-19 pandemic, WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a virtual news briefing in Geneva.

“Where these measures are followed, cases go down. Where they are not, cases go up,” he said, praising Canada, China, Germany and South Korea for controlling outbreaks.

WHO emergencies programme head Mike Ryan said it was impossible for countries to keep borders shut for the foreseeable future.

“...It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future. Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume,” he said. “What is clear is pressure on the virus pushes the numbers down. Release that pressure and cases creep back up.” 

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Ryan said Spain’s current situation was nowhere near as bad as it had been at the pandemic’s peak there, and he expected clusters to be brought under control, though it would take days or weeks to discern the disease’s future pattern.

“The more we understand the disease, the more we have a microscope on the virus, the more precise we can be in surgically removing it from our communities,” he added.

Resurgences of the coronavirus in various regions, including where nations thought they had controlled the disease, are alarming the world, with deaths nearing 650,000.

Ryan said far more important than definitions of second waves, new peaks and localised clusters, was the need for nations around the world to keep up strict health restrictions such as physical distancing.

Dr Tedros emphasised the priority remained saving lives.

"We have to suppress transmission but at the same time we have to identify the vulnerable groups and save lives, keeping the death rates if possible to zero, if not to a minimum," he said, praising Japan and Australia in that respect.

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