To review the effectiveness of travel measures implemented during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to inform changes on how evidence is incorporated in the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR).
We used an abbreviated Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Protocols to identify studies that investigated the effectiveness of travel-related measures preprinted or published by 1 June 2020.
We identified 29 studies, of which 26 were modelled. Thirteen studies investigated international measures, while 17 investigated domestic measures (one investigated both). There was a high level of agreement that the adoption of travel measures led to important changes in the dynamics of the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic: the Wuhan measures reduced the number of cases exported internationally by 70%–80% and led to important reductions in transmission within Mainland China. Additional travel measures, including flight restrictions to and from China, may have led to additional reductions in the number of exported cases. Few studies investigated the effectiveness of measures implemented in other contexts. Early implementation was identified as a determinant of effectiveness. Most studies of international travel measures did not account for domestic travel measures thus likely leading to biased estimates.
Travel measures played an important role in shaping the early transmission dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an urgent need to address important evidence gaps and also a need to review how evidence is incorporated in the IHR in the early phases of a novel infectious disease outbreak.