Suspend All Travel From China

Reaction of the World

On the 30th of January, the World Health Organisation declared a public health emergency of international concern after reports of mysterious pneumonia cases in China that posed a global threat. Since then, countries around the globe have implemented restrictions on travel from China in an effort to mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The United States of America was the first nation to impose a travel ban on China, suspending all visas that were granted to Chinese nationals on the 31st of January. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced, “This is a temporary suspension. I want to stress that. We willrevise the travel advisory and visa restrictions based on the developments of the novel coronavirus”.
The European Union also suspended non-essential travel from China soon after. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that, “Our immediate priority is to protect the health of our citizens. The Commission recommends suspending non-essential travel from China to the European Union”.
Multiple countries in the Asia Pacific region joined in promulgating tougher security measures. Australia barred all travellers from the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, on the 31st of January. Malaysian health director-general Dzulkefly Ahmad enforced a blanket travel ban on all citizens of China on the 4th of February and suspended visa-free travel for Chinese passport holders a day later.

Effect of Travel Bans on China’s Tourist Economy

The ban on travel from China has disrupted the travel industry, especially the country’s domestic tourism. Chinese domestic tourism is responsible for more than 4 trillion yuan (USD 582.9 billion) of consumption, which contributes nearly one-third of the nation’s economic growth.
As a consequence of the ban, the travel industry, which consists of hotels, resorts, and other recreational facilities, has suffered a massive blow. China Southern Airlines, the country’s largest carrier, recently reported a major drop in passenger numbers, resulting in a loss of more than 200 million yuan (USD 29 million) since January.
Furthermore, a survey conducted by Deloitte shows that 60 percent of Chinese entrepreneurs are uncertain about the direction of their businesses, due to potential disruption caused by the novel coronavirus.

Impact of the Travel Ban on International Students

The travel ban has had a severe impact on international students who study in the country. Since the ban was imposed, many across the world are now stranded and unable to return to their colleges and universities.
Countries such as Canada, Australia and the UK are the most popular destinations of international students from China and citizens from these countries have been under immense pressure to return. However, restrictions remain in place, thereby delaying their return home.
In the US, more than 350,000 students from China have been affected by the travel ban. Yale University reported that more than 200 students had not been able to make their way back to campus.

Measures Taken to Combat the Impact of the Ban

The Chinese government has responded to the situation by taking resolute steps to help students who are abroad. Over 1,700 provincial and university students in Hubei, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus have been provided with assistance in the form of one-time allowances and fixed subsidies.
Moreover, the Chinese Scholarship Council issued a notice, offering financial aid to international students who were unable to return home prior to the Spring Festival Holiday.
International Education Charitable Foundation has also partnered with the China National Scholarship to provide free air and train tickets to international students from China who are returning to their universities abroad.

Debate Around Right to Travel

The reaction to the travel ban has been mixed. While some have welcomed it, others have mounted harsh criticism against the measure, claiming the right to travel being grossly violated.
In an article for the New York Times, Sinocent founder Alexander Yuan said, “Why, when Australia restricted people from entering the country, were Australians in Wuhan allowed to return? A more broad-based, deeper global push for equal rights of citizens is needed”.
Another journalist for South China Morning Post contended that citizens are being punished “for the disease that originated in a specific corner of the country”.

Shift in Global Perception of the Situation

The ban has attracted a wave of criticism from the public, with some people hailing it as an arbitrary decision to fuel discrimination based on nationality. As the situation in China evolves, there has been a shift in global perception about the ban.
Recently, the WHO and other experts have suggested that additional travel restrictions are not beneficial and have warned against the imposition of discriminatory measures and panic policies.

Financial Implications of the Ban

The psychological and financial costs of the ban have been proving to be immense. It has already cost billions of dollars and is likely to have further implications on the global economy.
Apart from the tourism and travel industries, companies from other sectors such as luxury, food, and retail have declared losses to the tune of 700 million yuan (USD 102 million). Additionally, the Southeas Asian tourism sector is estimated to face losses amounting to USD 10 billion, causing massive distress to millions of businesses and families.

Effects on Other Disease-Affected Areas

The ban has alerted the public about other disease-affected nations around the world, raising questions about the potential imposition of similar policies towards those countries.
Arguably, the restrictions imposed by the US and Canada on travellers from Iran has led to similar backlash and accusations of unfair nationality-based practices.
Moreover, the novel coronavirus crisis has caused a global health emergency, with more nations introducing travel restrictions in recent months. Such events demonstrate that governments will not hesitate to isolate certain regions and countries in the event of a disease outbreak within their borders.

Potential Effect on International Relations

The travel bans can potentially interfere with relations among countries by affecting how diplomatic personnel from different nations communicate with one another.
For instance, the US travel restrictions posed a challenge to the functioning of the Chinese Embassy and Consulates in the US. The Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly opposed such moves stating that the US had infringed on the rights of the diplomatic personnel.
The countries will need to collaborate closely in this critical situation as it effects economies and citizens of both countries. The travel restrictions may impede this collaboration, thereby leading to further political tension.

Significance of Travel Restrictions

The event has highlighted the potential usefulness of travel restrictions as a mechanism of containing the spread of infectious diseases.
As a result, countries and organizations like the WHO, which are responsible for protecting global health, need to carefully consider the necessity of travel restrictions.
At the same time, travel restrictions should be used judiciously. Health authorities need to review all possible alternatives to ensure that other measures of risk assessment and control are used that will not entail adverse economic and social consequences.

John Melendez

John J. Melendez is a journalist, author, and commentator specializing in Chinese culture, politics, and international relations. He is a frequent guest on radio and television programs, and is the author of several books on Chinese culture and politics. He currently resides in Beijing, China.

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