Many U.S. politicians have been urging Congress to place stricter travel bans on people entering the United States from affected areas in western Africa, but this will not stop the Ebola virus from spreading. If anything, it will make it worse.
First, the Ebola virus is not airborne and cannot be transmitted through food or water. Persons affected with the Ebola virus are only contagious if they are experiencing symptoms or through the transmission of bodily fluids. So unless persons are joining the mile high club, air travel is safe for other passengers.
Secondly, the Ebola virus does not show symptoms until anywhere from two to 21 days. This renders strict travel bans pointless unless there will be a quarantine implemented for 21 days. This leads to my next point: If travel will be banned altogether from flagged countries such as Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, people will simply travel to other countries to get a connecting flight into the United States, just as Thomas Erin Duncan did, the first man to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. Ultimately, this migration to surrounding countries could render the chance of an even greater spread of the Ebola virus.
Third, health and security experts, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cautioned against an outright travel ban. They say it could complicate efforts to send in medical personnel and supplies where they are needed most and could also drive patients underground, making it even harder to halt the the spread of the virus. Also, these entities are providing crucial protective gear and expertise to handle and treat Ebola patients safely without spreading the disease. Without proper equipment and expertise, the chances of stopping the virus are drastically reduced.
If the Ebola virus worsened because of lack of aid and expertise, this would only heighten the affected population’s sense of desperation, increasing their desire to leave, and thus producing political instability, especially if their governments try and stop them due to pressure from the international community. The Ebola virus needs to be contained at ground zero, and the faster we act and send supplies, the greater the chance we have to stop the spread and panic.
More time, money, and manpower are being wasted in attempts to create strict bans on travel when instead those resources should be used on conducting medical research, helping victims, educating the population on safety, and containing the virus. Currently, the Ebola virus has a 50% mortality rate and there is no treatment or cure.
So far, the United States has decided not to shy away from the fight. However, some states are not exactly providing aid workers returning from the front lines with a warm welcome home. Currently, Connecticut is putting travelers returning from West Africa in mandatory quarantines even after testing negative for Ebola. Travelers are outraged and have even complained of “inhumane” conditions in isolation. As more rumors spread, they discourage aid workers to pursue helping victims in Africa.
Australia has gone much further by placing a blanket visa ban on Ebola-stricken regions of Africa. As the first nation to shut its doors on the Ebola crisis and look away as many men, women, and children suffer, Australia has refused requests to send aid to help battle the outbreak.
As a nation that is looked to as one with power and resources, it is vital that the United States continues to limit the amount of bans that we place on travel to and from West Africa. Our actions are being watched by other nations and serve as an influence. Our country should take actions that are based in science, not in panic and fear. And most importantly, it is our responsibility to not only aid those that are suffering, but to support the brave people who are trying to make a difference.