During an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention justified the lack of a travel ban from countries facing an outbreak of Ebola. Frieden confirmed that every day, “100 to 150” people from affected countries arrive in the United States.
Before this outbreak, it seemed to be common knowledge that “outbreaks anywhere in the world are only a plane ride away,” as stated by Laura Holgate, Senior Director at the National Security Council, during a press conference launching Obama’s interestingly-timed Global Health Security Agenda in February.
A repeated theme during the hearing, of course, was the potential for a travel ban. Various members of the committee repeatedly cited their constituents, i.e., the American people, as endorsing restrictions from countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak. A travel ban, or at the very least, a quarantine for those returning from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa was cited as a priority.
While it has been repeatedly stated by those who oppose such a flight ban that it would “isolate” the countries, there has been little discussion on how the “air bridge” is already in place to assist the affected countries.
For example, a report from AllAfrica quoted Major Jason Brown, Joint Task Force Command Operation United Assistance as as saying in September,
We have planes landing every single day bringing in more and more materials. We looked at a number of sites and we selected the best site… and the president approved it.
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases both agreed that a travel ban was not on the table at this time. The rationale, which has been fuzzy from the beginning, seems to be that if a travel ban was in effect, people coming from those countries would not be as traceable, considering that that “borders can be porous” in the affected regions.
Frieden, who repeatedly said that the most important objective was to protect Americans, said that if passengers are not allowed to come directly from affected countries, the “likelihood” that people would try to get in anyway grows and the federal government will lose the ability to “monitor people and isolate them if they are ill.”
If this is accurate, it seems that Americans have larger problems on their hands than Ebola. Isn’t it true that international visitors need to have certain documentation before entering the country?
Importantly, the World Health Organization, as well as the United Nations, have also opposed a flight ban, as reported at the Brenner Brief.
Currently, about 94% of those coming to America from affected countries are coming into airports where screening is taking place. It seems that this knowledge would be useful to someone who had designs on entering the country without being screened.