Contrary to the popular belief, a new study by the University of Chicago researchers has concluded that travel bans in cities with large populations of migrant labourers is counterproductive. Such bans can aid in the spread of the coronavirus.
Apart from Mumbai, the study also analysed data from five other countries where migration is prevalent — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Kenya.
As India grapples with the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and state after state announce COVID restrictions, curfews and lockdowns, there is a fear that travel restrictions may also be imposed to control the spread of the virus. However, a new study points out that travel bans in cities with large populations of migrant workers is counterproductive. Rather, it aids in the spread of the infection.
The study titled, ‘The impact of domestic travel bans on COVID-19 is nonlinear in their duration’, which is conducted by University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, was released today, April 29
“The researchers show that if the net effect of a travel ban is to delay the movement of these people, rather than prevent it entirely, the policy can lead to more cases overall,” the study notes.
The paper uses detailed data on rural-urban migration, travel ban policies, and COVID19 cases to prove that a negative outcome occurred in India during the first wave of the pandemic last year when travel bans were imposed on migrant workers wishing to leave Mumbai.
Elaborating on these findings, Dr. Anant Sudarshan, South Asia Director of The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and one of the authors of the study, says, “The national lockdown in the first wave trapped millions of migrants inside big cities like Mumbai that were fast-growing coronavirus hotspots.”
“In the case of rural districts where people could return quicker – using the Shramik Special Trains for example – cases rose modestly at the destination. But for those areas where bans were in effect longer, there was a much more intensive increase in coronavirus, likely because the returning population was now more likely to be infected, having been trapped in the hotspot longer,” he added while explaining the drawbacks of domestic travel restrictions.
Apart from Mumbai, the study also analysed data from five other countries where migration is prevalent — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Kenya. Together these countries comprise almost 40 per cent of the global population and all of them witnessed initial outbreaks in a few hotspot locations.
Fiona Burlig, Assistant Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, one of the co-authors of the study, said, “The evidence indicates that if the duration of a travel ban is not long enough, we may end up imposing hardship on people while perversely seeing more spread of infection.”
“Getting the duration wrong is easy because it is not possible to predict in advance what the optimal length should be, and in a democracy such restrictions cannot be easily sustained. There may be merit in letting people go home early, and indeed encouraging them to do so, rather than forcing them to stay,” she added.