This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her publications include the book Organizational Progeny: Why Governments Are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance.
Options Beyond Border Closures
One of the numerous ways in which the world’s response to COVID has been problematic involves border closures. As the novel coronavirus spread in spring 2020, more than 130 countries restricted international travel and border-crossing. Some prevented entry by foreigners from specific countries, or by foreigners generally. Others used blanket policies, preventing entry even by a country’s own citizens or permanent residents.
The continued pandemic makes it difficult to obtain complete and precise results, but preliminary studies issue several warnings about border closures. For one thing, they do provide relief, but also should be supplemented by measures such as early detection, handwashing, self-isolation, and household quarantine. Furthermore, border closures are costly: lockdown and other drastic measures may have been effective from a public health standpoint, but they also hurt societies, economies, and the humanitarian response system. Moreover, border closures may be illegal. The “right of return” to one’s home country is enshrined in at least four regional or global treaties. These treaties do contain some language allowing exceptions – but states that closed their borders during the initial months of the COVID pandemic rarely followed the treaties’ procedures, and therefore they’ve opened themselves to litigation in human rights courts.
If border closures are stopgaps that are costly and potentially illegal, then countries must explore additional options for dealing with infectious diseases. During the COVID pandemic, such exploration has included mask mandates, prohibitions on large gatherings, restrictions on refugee processing, mass vaccination, immunity passports, and others. Despite the variety of measures, however, exploration for each distills to two steps: 1) determine the policy, and 2) persuade people to follow it.Continue reading