Research Article

The effect of travel restrictions on the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

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Science  24 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6489, pp. 395-400
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba9757

Outbreak to pandemic

In response to global dispersion of severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), quarantine measures have been implemented around the world. To understand how travel and quarantine influence the dynamics of the spread of this novel human virus, Chinazzi et al. applied a global metapopulation disease transmission model to epidemiological data from China. They concluded that the travel quarantine introduced in Wuhan on 23 January 2020 only delayed epidemic progression by 3 to 5 days within China, but international travel restrictions did help to slow spread elsewhere in the world until mid-February. Their results suggest that early detection, hand washing, self-isolation, and household quarantine will likely be more effective than travel restrictions at mitigating this pandemic.

Science, this issue p. 395


Motivated by the rapid spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in mainland China, we use a global metapopulation disease transmission model to project the impact of travel limitations on the national and international spread of the epidemic. The model is calibrated on the basis of internationally reported cases and shows that, at the start of the travel ban from Wuhan on 23 January 2020, most Chinese cities had already received many infected travelers. The travel quarantine of Wuhan delayed the overall epidemic progression by only 3 to 5 days in mainland China but had a more marked effect on the international scale, where case importations were reduced by nearly 80% until mid-February. Modeling results also indicate that sustained 90% travel restrictions to and from mainland China only modestly affect the epidemic trajectory unless combined with a 50% or higher reduction of transmission in the community.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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