The travel restrictions imposed in light of the new coronavirus outbreak have only modestly delayed the spread of the virus.

One of Italy's quarantine red zones on March 9, 2020
One of Italy’s quarantine red zones on March 9, 2020

According to a new study, the travel restrictions imposed in light of the new coronavirus outbreak only modestly delayed the spread of the virus outside Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started.

For the study researchers used computer modeling along with real-world data to simulate the spread of the disease, known as COVID-19, under various scenarios, they report in journal Science on Friday (March 6). and put the city and its airport on lockdown — delayed the spread of the virus throughout mainland China by only three to five days.

coronavirus in southern Gaza Strip
coronavirus in southern Gaza Strip

The Wuhan travel ban was more effective at preventing the spread of the virus to the rest of the world, at least initially. The researchers estimate the travel ban led to a 77% reduction in cases imported from China to the rest of the world in early February, compared with no travel ban. However, this reduction only lasted about two to three weeks, after which the number of international cases ticked upward due to cases imported from other parts of China.

coronavirus cases in Germany
coronavirus cases in Germany

Further analysis revealed that even very strict travel restrictions — which reduce air travel to and from China by 90% — would not have a big effect on the outbreak’s trajectory unless paired with efforts to slow down the rate of disease transmission between people. Such efforts include early detection of COVID-19 cases, isolation of cases and contacts, and tried-and-true public health measures like hand washing.

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