Despite international bodies such as the World Health Organization declaring it a shortsighted and ultimately damaging tactic, the number of countries that are placing restrictions on travel due to Ebola has been rising.
Although precise numbers are a little hard to ascertain (countries are not always forthcoming with their policies), by WorldView's count there appear to be almost 30 countries imposing blanket or near-blanket bans on entry for residents from Ebola's West African epicenter: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Many of these countries are also banning entry for their own citizens who have visited the epicenter recently.
Below is a list of those countries, in alphabetical order. As you read through it, think to yourself: Which countries stand out?
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Cape Verde
- Equatorial Guinea
- North Korea
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- St Kitts and Nevis
- St Lucia
- St Maarten
- St Vincent and the Grenadines
- The Dominican Republic
- Trinidad and Tobago
(For more information on the specifics of these cases, check International SOS, a health advisory group that monitors Ebola-related travel restrictions.)
First off, there are plenty of African nations here. Perhaps that's understandable. Some of these countries are quite close to the West African Ebola-hit nations, and many have fragile health infrastructures that would struggle if there was an outbreak. In addition, a fair number of these countries have autocratic or semi-autocratic rulers willing to ignore the advice of the international health community.
Then, there's an unusually high number of Caribbean island nations. These small nations, again often with fragile health systems, seem especially concerned about a potential Ebola outbreak and how it might affect their important tourism industries. For example, St Lucia's prime minister, Kenny Anthony, has justified the decision, explaining that his country does not have the ability "to manage any crisis that lands on our doorstep, any crisis of that kind."
The Latin American nations Belize, Columbia, Guyana, Panama and Suriname appear likely to have been influenced by their Caribbean neighbors. North Korea, of course, makes an appearance, with by far the most restrictive border policy on Ebola. Perhaps there's some logic there, but who really knows. It's North Korea after all.
So who's left? Australia and Canada. Two wealthy democracies with health-care systems ranked among the best in the world.
What is it that has made these two wealthy Western nations ignore the advice of experts and the actions of peers? Isn't Canada supposed to be more sensible than the United States, where the more reasonable tactic of screening has been implemented nationwide (some local problems notwithstanding)? The WHO seems stumped and has begun demanding answers. "These are measures that go beyond the recommendations of the WHO's emergency committee," Isabelle Nuttall of WHO's alert and response department told Agence France-Presse.
For many Canadians and Australians, their country's position on this list is an embarrassment. "Banning refugees from West Africa is like shuttering up the windows of a house while it burns to the ground," Sarah Hanson-Young, an Australian lawmaker from the Greens Party, told Reuters. "Canada has the resources and know-how to be a leader in the fight against Ebola," the Globe and Mail wrote in an editorial. "Instead, we are on a very short list of leading nations that have moved to back of the pack by badly overreacting."
So far there have been no signs of a reversal, though Tony Abbott's government did recently relent to international pressure to send Australian volunteers to fight Ebola. It begs a worrying question: Will more Western nations ignore the advice of the international health-care community and follow the lead of North Korea?