Domestic travel bans can increase COVID-19 cases: Univ of Chicago study

·2-min read

New Delhi, Apr 29 (PTI) Domestic travel bans can increase COVID-19 cases, a new research by the University of Chicago has found.

According to a statement from the university, the study using data from India and five other countries finds that using domestic travel bans to control COVID-19 infections may be inadvisable.

The study has found that imposing travel bans can counter-intuitively increase the total spread of coronavirus disease, creating a “lose-lose situation”, the university said in the statement.

Elaborating on these findings, Anant Sudarshan, South Asia Director of The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and one of the study authors, said the national lockdown in the first wave trapped millions of migrants inside big cities like Mumbai that were fast-growing coronavirus hotspots.

“Eventually people were able to leave, but variations in government policy meant that the length of time they were detained depended on where they wanted to go. In the case of rural districts where people could return quicker – using the Shramik Special Trains for example - cases rose modestly at the destination,” he said.

“But for those areas where bans were in effect longer, there was a much more intensive increase in coronavirus, likely because the returning population was now more likely to be infected, having been trapped in the hotspot longer,” he said.

The paper further analyses data from five other countries where migration is prevalent – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Kenya.

Together these countries comprise roughly 40 per cent of the global population and all of them had initial outbreaks in a few hotspot locations.

The researchers used epidemiological data, migration data, and information on travel bans from all these countries to show that although exceptionally long bans may work to reduce total cases, moderate durations are associated with significant increases in disease spread.

Fiona Burlig, Assistant Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, one of the co-authors of the study, said the evidence indicates that if the duration of a travel ban is not long enough, we may end up imposing hardship on people while perversely seeing more spread of infection.

“Getting the duration wrong is easy because it is not possible to predict in advance what the optimal length should be, and in a democracy such restrictions cannot be easily sustained. There may be merit in letting people go home early, and indeed encourage them to do so, rather than forcing them to stay,” Burlig said. PTI ASG RHL