The coronavirus crisis, which has killed over 22,000 and virtually destroyed the global economy, has seen government leaders, journalists and health officials try their hardest to promote open borders despite the threat to the global public.
The question is now why Europe and the rest of the world waited so long to close their borders, especially to hard-hit countries like China. The answer to that might have a lot to do with the next 20 quotes.
Emmanuel Macron: closing borders to Italy is a bad decision
French President Emmanuel Macron claimed on March 10 that Slovenia and Austria made “bad decisions” by severely restricting travel with Italy, which also neighbors France.
“I sincerely believe that these are bad decisions,” Macron remarked after he partook in crisis talks about the coronavirus with other EU leaders during a video conference.
Just a week later, France closed its border to every nation in Europe.
EC president Ursula von der Leyen: General travel bans are ineffective
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also said on March 13 that “general travel bans are not seen as being the most effective by the World Health Organization” after voicing her opposition to countries unilaterally closing their borders.
She made the remarks in response to the Czech Republic implementing an entry ban on foreigners and an exit ban on all Czechs on March 9 at the same time other EU nations, including Hungary, Austria, and Slovenia, all reintroduced border checks. The countries dropped passport-free travel in Europe’s Schengen zone and focused their checks on travelers from hard-hit Italy.
The EU issued a general travel ban at its external borders less than a week after von der Leyen chastised the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, and Slovenia for taking that action to close their borders.
Macron said EU should avoid ‘nationalist retreat’
French President Emmanuel Macron warned against hastily closing borders, which would amount to a “nationalist retreat”.
Warning of the danger of “nationalist isolation,” he said: “This virus has no passport. We must unify our forces, coordinate our responses and cooperate. European coordination is essential, and I will ensure it goes forward.”
WHO chief urges countries not to close borders to foreigners from China
The World Health Organization (WHO) pursued its dedication to open borders right until the end, with its head calling for countries to keep their borders open to China, where the coronavirus stemmed from.
“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in early February.
Tedros expressed his disapproval of countries like Singapore, the United States, and Australia for closing their borders to China.
The Council on Foreign Relations think tank has said that Tedros owes China after the communist government backed him during his election to become director-general in 2017.
Tedros denies that he follows orders from Beijing but the WHO has been accused of dragging its feet in declaring a global health emergency. Tedros even praised China for demonstrating “transparency” during the crisis despite evidence the country covered up the outbreak and persecuted medical whistleblowers.
WHO chief: Closing borders increases ‘fear’ and ‘stigma’
Ghebreyesus also later called for borders to stay open in a statement that appeared to put political correctness before public health.
“We reiterate our call to all countries not to impose restrictions that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit,” Ghebreyesus said to the UN’s executive board in Geneva.
The WHO has long argued that closing borders to a country during an outbreak increases stigma towards that country and even whole ethnic groups.
Despite EU leaders and WHO officials being opposed to border closures, a huge survey by Reuters found that citizens were overwhelmingly in support of such measures, with Asian countries showing the highest support for border closures.
Angela Merkel says Germany against closing borders before she closed the borders
During German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first public address about the outbreak, she warned that border closures would not be enough to prevent the spread of the virus.
She said, “We in Germany, in any case, are of the opinion that border closures are not an appropriate response to the challenge.”
“This is a test for our solidarity, our common sense and care for each other. And I hope we pass the test,” she said, adding that she ruled out following Austria’s lead in banning visitors from Italy.
On March 18, Germany closed its borders to all EU travelers to help slow the spread of the virus in the country and reduce the number of new outbreaks.
The Atlantic: Trump’s decision to close border to European citizens makes no sense and is based on prejudice
The Atlantic magazine had this to say about Trump’s travel ban with Europe:
“President Donald Trump’s decision to ban most European citizens from traveling to the U.S., except those from the United Kingdom and Ireland, appears to make no sense, and to inject past grievances and prejudices into delicate scientific and political equations.”
The EU would ban all entry of non-EU citizens just over a week later. The Atlantic has not accused Europe of making its decision on past grievances or “prejudice”.
WHO executive council member says closing borders in Italy ‘excessive’ and ‘not based on scientific evidence’
WHO experts were constantly fighting countries over any type of travel ban. Italy, which has now suffered over 8,100 deaths, finally closed its border with China on Jan. 31. The country’s first officially confirmed coronavirus cases, on Jan. 23, were Chinese tourists from Wuhan who traveled across the country on a tourist bus with 100 other Chinese tourists before health authorities in Rome confirmed their diagnosis.
Despite the threat, it still took a week for Italy to ban all flights from China.
WHO experts said Italy made the wrong call in banning flights from China.
One of Italy’s top virologists told CNN that he believes Italy waited so long to ban flights from China out of fears of being labeled “racist”.
Chinese girl in Italy: Hug me! I’m not a virus
“Hug me! I’m not a virus” was the message printed on a placard carted around by Chinese girl on the streets of Milan in a viral video filmed during the coronavirus outbreak. The video, posted under the hashtags #ImNotVirus and #ImHuman, was not the only one. In another, a Chinese man in Florence asks passersby to hug him while he wears a face mask.
The first videos was posted on the Youtube channel New China TV, which is run by the Xinhua News Agency, the official state-owned press arm of China. The second was posted by the China Global Television Network, another state-owned broadcaster.
Florence mayor: Hug a Chinese person
Some Italians took up the call from China, including Florence’s mayor, Dario Nardella, who launched a nationwide campaign to ‘hug a Chinese person’, which was featured in a video posted to China’s People’s Daily, which is also run by the Chinese government. Nardella said he was running the campaign to “stem the hatred”.
Nardella actively encouraged people to hug strangers during the coronavirus outbreak, an act now aggressively discouraged by health authorities in both Italy and beyond.
Sweden’s top epidemiologist: closing borders ‘completely meaningless’
In Sweden, restaurants, bars, and shops are still open. Children still go to school, and people can still gather in groups as large up to 500 people. Much of the country’s strategy for dealing with coronavirus is based on advice from Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s top epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency.
He believes the country should build its immunity while protecting at-risk groups, which means he is doing little to prevent the virus from spreading.
When Denmark closed its borders, Tegnell was critical, saying that Denmark’s move was “completely meaningless.”
Despite Tegnell’s claims that sealing the border was ‘meaningless’, Sweden went ahead and banned entry for all non-EU citizens into the country, with the exception of asylum seekers.
Tegnell: Safe for those infected in the same household to go to school or work
The next comment from Tegnell has little to do with borders but illustrates his promotion of a radically open society during a time when many nations are doing all they can to halt the spread of the virus.
In what left many Swedes in disbelief, including the country’s prime minister, Tegnell said during a TV interview on March 18 that it was “safe” for people living in the same household as another person infected with coronavirus to continue going to work or school.
Bernie Sanders says he wouldn’t close borders over coronavirus
“But let’s not go back to the same old thing,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, who is currently running for Democratic presidential nomination. “Isn’t it interesting that a president who has been demagoguing and demonizing immigrants, the first thing that he could think about is closing down the border?”
WHO spokesperson claims closing borders will make those with coronavirus feel like the ‘enemy’
Other WHO officials also seemed to be concerned with political correctness over taking measures to contain the virus, including Margaret Harris, a World Health Organization spokesperson, who said that closing borders would suddenly make nations feel like they are ‘fine’.
“You divert a lot of resources when you are focused on closing borders, rather than focusing on protecting your health workers, preparing your health systems, and enhancing your disease surveillance,” she told The Intercept. “You mistakenly think, ‘Oh, we closed our borders. We’re fine.’ But giving people the sense that they are the enemy, that they are the problem, makes people hide because they become very frightened of the consequences. They’re not sure that identifying themselves with the authorities will be something that has good consequences for them as we saw with Ebola.”
Despite countries across Europe closing their borders, there appears to be very little evidence that countries assume closing the borders means the threat of coronavirus is over and that their citizens are ‘fine’. Instead, it is just one of many measures countries are taking to slow the spread of the virus and ensure that are not additional outbreaks to contend with.
CNN warns travel ban could stigmatize ‘countries and ethnicities’
In a sign that the media also associated travel bans with racism as opposed to legitimate fear from leaders that the coronavirus could spread, CNN warned Trump’s travel ban could “backfire” and have the effect of “stigmatizing countries and ethnicities”.
Closing border with Europe will have no impact on U.S. spread of coronavirus
Regarding Trump’s travel ban on European travelers during the coronavirus outbreak, Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University, sent a tweet arguing against it.
“Most of Europe is as safe as US. This will have no impact on US … germs don’t respect borders,” he wrote.
The EU appeared to disagree with him, as evidenced by the continent’s own decision to implement its own border lockdown a little over a week later to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
European health ministers: Closing frontiers would be ‘disproportionate and ineffective’
As deaths began to rise in Italy, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza his German counterpart, Jens Spahn, and other health ministers from countries neighboring Italy met in Rome along with the EU’s health commissioner. They issued a statement that closing frontiers would be a “disproportionate and ineffective” measure.
Both countries subsequently closed their borders.
Chancellor: Britain remains committed to open borders
After President Trump issued a travel ban restricting Europeans from traveling into the United States, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said that Britain does not need to copy such a ban, saying that travel are “not going to have material effect” on spread of coronavirus.
“With regard to flight bans we are always guided by the science as we make our decisions here. The advice we are getting is that there isn’t evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infections,” Sunak told the BBC.
Closing borders to Italy, China and Iran ‘would not have any effect’
After the Sunday Times reported on March 22 that flights from the worst-hit countries of China, Italy, and Iran are still continuing to land in London on a daily basis, bringing an estimated 7,500 people to Britain a week from those three countries, an unnamed government spokesperson reiterated the government’s position.
‘There is no evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans would have any effect on the spread of infection,” the spokesperson said.
EU ‘experts’: closing borders ‘ineffective’ for coronavirus
Citing unnamed EU “experts”, EU Observer quoted them as saying they believed closing borders was “ineffective” for battling the coronavirus.
The EU appears to have disagreed with its own experts in the end but by then it was too late.