Calls for banning travel from West African nations stricken by Ebola grew louder this week. Loud enough that during intense questioning Thursday, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to remind Congress that the CDC doesn’t issue visas.
Politics aside, many Americans support the idea of a travel ban. But what exactly does a travel ban mean?
Aid organizations say it’s crucial that commercial airlines keep flying to West Africa. That’s how volunteer doctors and nurses get there.
“These people are not there for the duration of the epidemic,” says Gilbert Burnham with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He says many stay a month or six weeks, “then they’re likely to rotate out and other people rotate in.”
So is a travel ban a ban on flights, or on people? Logistically, it may seem simple to just cancel incoming flights from Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia.
Right now, though, there are no direct flights to the U.S. from those countries, according to John Wagner, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Transportation policy expert Kenneth Button of George Mason University says it can be harder to track people who fly indirectly, if they purchase different tickets for different legs.
“They could actually buy a separate ticket from Guinea or Sierra Leone to Paris and then have a separate ticket from Paris to the United States,” he says, adding they could lay over for a few days in the middle.
That’s part of the reason some lawmakers want to suspend visas for non-U.S. citizens from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, until the Ebola outbreak is contained.
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