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Research Seminar Series: Xenophobia and international cooperation: Border restrictions during COVID-19

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WhoCatherine Z. Worsnop (Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy, UMD)

Title: Xenophobia and international cooperation: Border restrictions during COVID-19

Abstract: On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization’s (WHO), acting under the authority of the International Health Regulations (IHR), recommended against the use of international travel or trade restrictions. Yet, by March 2020, almost every state had enacted a border restriction--such as quarantine, entry restrictions, and border closures--in the name of stopping or mitigating COVID-19 spread. Though these restrictions were widespread during the pandemic, some states imposed these measures more quickly than others. This variation in border policies shaped early responses to the pandemic and speaks to state commitments to the IHR. Building on past work showing that states use border restrictions as political cover during outbreaks, I analyze original data on states' first border policies during the pandemic and find preliminary evidence for a link between xenophobia and the timing of border restrictions. These findings are relevant for both scholarship and policy. In terms of scholarship, the article illustrates that recent work on the role of racism in international relations also applies to patterns of international cooperation during global health emergencies. In terms of policy, these findings show that political factors continue to influence state border policies during major outbreaks. While WHO's blanket statement against border restrictions has been questioned and the organization must reassess the substance of its guidance going forward, even the most nuanced and timely guidance from WHO will be hard pressed to address the political incentives behind states' border restrictions.

Anyone who is interested in attending virtually should contact jboire@umd.edu and they will provide you with the Zoom login information for the seminar.


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