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Travel ban from Omicron variant effected countries and Ethical issues associated to it

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  • Published
    28th Dec, 2021


The past year and a half has been unique for the world due to unfolding of Covid-19 scenario. In the wake of new variant Omicron many countries have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries which have reported cases of this variant.

  • This raised debate about the efficacy and morality of these bans. So let’s delve in the details of these ethical issues.


  • In November, the United Statesjoined a growing list of nations banning travelers from countries in southern Africa, where the variant was first identified.
  • The U.S. decision followed another recent change-
    • It required non-citizens entering the U.S. by plane to be fully vaccinated, with limited exceptions.
    • Everyone entering by plane, including citizens, must provide a negative COVID-19 test.

This brief explores the intersection of ‘global health’ and ‘ethics’ and far-reaching consequences of the travel ban that should prompt policymakers to consider not just science, but ethics.


How ethical is the new travel rules (ban or full vaccination)?

Arguments to support travel ban

  • Protection: It would prevent further introduction, transmission, and spread of COVID-19. Most importantly, it would slow the spread of COVID-19
  • Saving lives: Ethically, the reason to contain the spread is to protect health and save lives. It could be argued that a country’s first duty is to keep its own people safe. 

The Law of Peoples

  • Johan Rawls in his book “The Law of Peoples” while discussing international morality said that state should have the right to self-defence and in this case banning the flight is actually a self-defence measure against the unknown variant.
  • Time to reformulate vaccines:  A travel ban gives scientists more timeto assess how well existing vaccines fare against new variants, and to begin reformulating vaccines if needed.

Arguments against travel ban

De-motivate countries to share information: Travel bans could backfire if they are seen as punitive, and could make countries less likely to share information about new variants. 

  • Making sole accountable: Travel bans could the country a scapegoatfor a “worldwide problem”.
  • Attack on solidarity: Targeting the countries with travel bans “attacks global solidarity”.
  • Disparity in vaccination: Travel bans and vaccine rules also raise equity concerns, given the dramatic disparity in vaccination rates across the globe. Travel restrictions disproportionately impact people from low-income nations where few vaccines are available.

Lack of access to vaccines

  • Throughout much of the world, particularly poorer regions, people cannot access vaccines. 
  • On average, only 6% of people in low-income countries have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 74% in rich countries.
  • Partial responsibility: Equity concerns are intensified by wealthy nations’ partial responsibility for poorer nations’ difficulty accessing vaccines.
    • Early in the pandemic, rich countries struck advance market agreements and secured as much as 500%of their predicted vaccine need, exacerbating global vaccine scarcity and bidding up prices.

Assessing the role of ‘transparency’ in Pandemic:

Ethical responsibilities of reporting countries:

Towards the international community:

  • Global safety: It becomes unethical on part of countries to suppress the information just thinking about the reactionary response of other nation states.
  • Impact on travel and business: The decision by governments to report the variant of Covid-19 instantly and transparently might prima facie seem as a bad one for their own good. As the travel bans and restrictions imposed by other nations will not only affect the air travel but also the business transaction of the country at large. 
  • Securing trust: But actually maintaining transparency in times of pandemic is even more crucial to bolster the country against an uncertain future. It also maintains and secures stakeholder trust.

Towards its own citizens:

  • Earning people’s trust: Transparency also comes with accountability not only for international community but also for its citizens. If the country proactively shares the information it will not only increase trust by its own people but of international community.
  • Protection: The transparent and timely sharing of information with the public, on both a proactive and reactive basis, is crucial for protecting public health.
  • Better policy and decisions: It would improve policy and-decision-making.
  • Greater good for all: The ethical doctrine of greater good for greater number of people also justifies the action.
  • Long-term benefits: It will help in long term not only in international relations but also in garnering business opportunities. Hence, in long term this transparency of countries will garner more business, cordial international relations and also increase international standing of these reporting nations.

Ethical responsibilities of countries imposing travel ban:                               

Towards reporting countries:

  • Against international morality: It might seem that imposing travel ban on countries which transparently and proactively reported new variant is a harsh treatment. It even seems to be against international morality.
  • The tenet of international morality is quite aptly described in United Nations charter.
    • It underlines that succeeding generation shall be protected from scourge of war or similar situations by international cooperation in solving various problems. This is one such challenge which requires cooperation and understanding of all.

Towards its citizens:

  • The UN charter though outlining concept of international morality keep its focus on fundamental human right and right to life is fundamental to any citizen.
  • Thus, a country imposing proactive bans to protect its citizens is an ethical and just measure even if it causes some loss of finance or creates some friction in international relations.

Way Forward:

The countries imposing travel ban can access the situation judiciously and decide to allow at some airports bubble flight for emergency services. They can strengthen their own health infrastructure at airports for testing arriving passengers.

Even the international community can help these reporting countries financially as a good gesture to overcome the loss meted out in this period.


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