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Global coordination on cross-border travel and trade measures crucial to COVID-19 response

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When WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on Jan 30, 2020, under the provisions of the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), it recommended against “any travel or trade restriction”. (1) The recommendation was based on data available at the time, evidence from previous outbreaks, and principles underpinning the IHR. It formed an important part of WHO's messaging about how states could effectively respond in a coordinated way. Instead, over the following months, according to WHO, 194 countries adopted some form of cross-border measure—eg, travel restrictions, visa restrictions, border closures, among others—with little reproach from WHO or other actors in the international community. (2) This response is a sharp increase from at most 25% of member states that imposed trade and travel restrictions during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic and the 2013–16 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in west Africa.(3) Indeed, WHO's recommendation against measures such as travel restrictions and border closures became a point of criticism of the organisation's role at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. (4)

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