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Borders and disease

October 6, 2021

New Zealand was one of the select few nations that had managed to avoid Covid-19 through border controls. Many don’t realize how difficult that is to do. The discipline has to apply to everyone. Quarantine must be mandatory. And rigorous contact tracing must back up any infections detected.

Portugal_CovidWhere that had been succeeding for New Zealand, it now has failed. The more infectious delta variant has made an outbreak. So they had better see if they can follow Portugal, where most everyone qualifying to receive a vaccine has done so. The diagram attached (click for full size) shows new cases there, per capita.

Once an infectious disease is endemic in a nation, it’s far from clear how much border control can help with it. That’s like try to control a forest fire that is actively burning sections of land by making sure there are no more careless campers. It’s too late for that. Nations that rely on a large amount of international travel never had much opportunity to do that. Covid-19 was seeded in the NYC area, from international travel with Europe, before we first restricted travel to China. At the present, a million and a half people arrive in the US. Every day. Tens of thousands no doubt are carrying some infectious disease. Closing the border, or even just enforcing a rigorous quarantine for those arriving, always was a step too far. Because of the economic fallout, from the cultural impediments to doing so, and too late when first discussed.

Mandating vaccination for those entering would be more plausible. Though I see little reason to think it would much change the course of the disease here. One reason nations do that is to avoid the trouble that comes from visitors arriving and then getting sick. That is why some nations with yellow fever require visitors to be vaccinated for that. They don’t worry that more bodies feeding the mosquitoes will increase the disease. They just don’t want visitors to get sick soon after arriving.

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