Healthcare

Gates says travel ban made COVID-19 worse in US

Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said the implementation of the government's travel ban may have exacerbated the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. earlier this year.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, part of which was released Friday, Gates said the ban led people abroad to rush back to the U.S. and that proper safety and testing measures were not in place upon their return, sparking further spread of the virus. 

"We created this rush, and we didn't have the ability to test or quarantine those people. And so that seeded the disease here. You know, the ban probably accelerated that, the way it was executed," Gates, who has dedicated much of his philanthropy efforts toward global health initiatives, told Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace.

Wallace then pressed him on the point, asking if he was saying the travel restrictions, which President Trump touted as limiting the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., had made things worse.

"March saw this incredible explosion - the West Coast coming from China and then the East Coast coming out of Europe," Gates replied in the excerpts provided by Fox News. "And so, even though we'd seen China and we'd seen Europe, that testing capacity and clear message of how to behave wasn't there."

Trump on Jan. 31 barred entry to the United States of foreign travelers who had been in China in the past two weeks. The order became effective on Feb. 22 and it did not apply to U.S. residents and their families.

Trump on March 11 imposed a ban on travel from Europe. The ban did not initially include Ireland and the United Kingdom, but a week later those countries were included. 

The president has frequently touted the ban, saying it was critical in saving lives early on in the pandemic. 

"[W]e saved tens of thousands of lives, probably hundreds of thousands of lives. And we saved millions of lives by doing the closing and now the opening the way we did it," Trump said at a press conference last week.

The president has also noted that Democrats were opposed to the ban at the time, with some calling the restrictions on travelers from China "xenophobic" at the time. 

The effectiveness of the bans have been questioned in recent months, with reports emerging that tens of thousands of travelers from China were able to still come to the U.S. through loopholes in Trump's measure.

Still, many public health officials have said the bans were a positive step in the fight against the pandemic that still must be complemented by boosted testing and contact tracing capacities, among other additional health measures.

"One of the things we did right was very early cut off travel from China to the United States. Because outside of China, where it originated, the countries in the world that have it are through travel, either directly through China or indirectly from someone who went someplace and then came to that particular country," Anthony Fauci, the federal government's leading infectious disease expert, said in March. 

"Our shutting off travel from China, and more recently travel from Europe, has gone a long way to not seeding, very, very intensively, the virus in our country," he said.

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