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Why have some governments banned outbound international flights in response to COVID-19?

For example, the Philippines initially announced (but later reversed) a ban on outbound flights:

Airports in Luzon [large island in Philippines where the capital, Manila, is located] will stop all outbound international flights starting Friday after the government gave a 72-hour window to all those who wish to leave the country after heightened measures were put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.

https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/3/17/Philippines-international-flights-coronavirus-Luzon-quarantine.html

The New York Times has an article on travel bans that identifies a few other cases of countries with outbound travel bans, including:

  • Namibia: "suspending inbound and outbound flights from Qatar, Ethiopia and Germany for 30 days"
  • Bolivia: "cessation of all flights to and from Europe"
  • Peru: "The measure means all international flights will be canceled. "

I understand the ban of inbound international flights to prevent contaminated individuals from entering the country, but banning outbound flights seems less obvious to me.

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    A sense of responsibility to other nations? Not wanting those planes to return contaminated? – ceejayoz Mar 30 at 18:11
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    @ceejayoz doesn't really matter if they're flying to a country with the same level of infection, no? – JonathanReez Mar 30 at 18:57
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    @JonathanReez I'm pretty sure any instances of increased interactions with people increase the risk. So for example stopping international flights would fit right in with social distancing, which helps reduce the rate that level of infection increases. – JMac Mar 31 at 15:00
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    @JMac if domestic travel is banned too it makes sense. International only does not. – JonathanReez Mar 31 at 15:47
  • @JonathanReez At least in some countries, there are probably a lot more legal hurdles to banning domestic flights vs. international ones. Freedom of movement is a relatively highly-protected right of citizens in many countries. Most countries, on the other hand, already give their government quite a bit of power to restrict international travel. There's also the issue that banning domestic travel can greatly complicate travel for essential needs, including the government's own need for travel. Granted, the problem would be much less in smaller countries than in (geographically) larger ones. – reirab Apr 1 at 23:14
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Another possibility, ignoring fears of infection, is that the country doesn't want their citizens to become stranded in another country if flights are suspended at a later date. For example, on Monday, March 30th, the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced a £75m plan to charter flights to repatriate stranded Britons, and also advised any citizens still in countries where commercial flights remain available to fly home as soon as possible.

If a country's citizens become stranded abroad it will usually end up being the government's responsibility to fly them home.

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There are a number of reasons that a country would want to restrict outbound flights.

Firstly, there is the issue of getting to the airport to catch the flight. Someone catching a flight will interact with a transport provider (taxi driver, car rental company, etc), check-in staff, security staff, passport control, gate staff, and others. These additional contacts increases the risk of transmission if someone has the disease.

There is also concern about what is coming in from overseas. If the flight is being operated by a foreign airline, a plane and crew would have to come in from overseas to operate it. If the flight is being operated by a national airline, the plane and crew that goes out will have to come back. Either way, the crew will interact with enough ground staff to risk transmission if they get infected overseas.

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  • Also: the proximity of passengers (and the crew) within the plane itself during the flight... – Denis de Bernardy Mar 30 at 18:27
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    While true, that would be more an inbound flight issue than an outbound flight issue. – Joe C Mar 30 at 20:05
  • People will get sick in planes if there's someone spreading a virus whether it's inbound or outbound. Also... – Denis de Bernardy Mar 30 at 20:22
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I expect there are three rationales behind this:

  • In the face of pandemics, there is a definite "run for the hills" panic mentality that can set in, sending hordes of people to airports. But airports — like any form of mass transit — are not the most sanitary places in the world, and are not designed for social distancing. An outbound airport crush would be a perfect place to transmit covid-19 to others.
  • Airports aren't only for arrivals and departures; many flights at major airports are layovers where planes refuel or passengers transfer to connecting flights. Someone waiting for an outbound flight in an airport might be casually exposed to any number of people passing through from one nation to another, without any way of knowing where those people had been traveling.
  • People who are likely to flee their homeland because of a fear of disease are equally likely to flee back to their homeland if they become afraid in the country they travel to, and nations have an obligation to repatriate their own citizens. That opens the opportunity for someone to unwittingly flee into a hot zone and then demand return, potentially as vectors for the disease.

Airports are just not good places to be during pandemics, for anyone, and restrictions on outbound flights as well as inbound will minimize the dangers those locales pose.

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It is very difficult and maybe even illegal to say for a citizen, a passport holder, "sorry we do not let you back into your own country". Hence if the citizen leaves the country, it is difficult to prevent them from returning, possibly infected.

An obvious solution of this problem is to prevent the citizens from leaving the country to start from.

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The most obvious reason, I'd think, is to avoid sending virus out of the country. Even if almost every country is now experiencing at least some cases, sending people who may be infected with virus to other countries can only serve to spread it around that much more and thus increase its rate of growth.

Restricting travel as much as possible - both ways - simply makes good sense during a major outbreak of a dangerous infection. You can think of it as a global-scale version of "stay at home". Moreover, it can also help with local efforts at that by removing one source of people leaving home and thus potentially spreading virus domestically on the way to the airport.

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Countries ban inbound flights are also indirectly banning the outbound flights from all other countries that were supposed to reach them. Incoming flights come from somewhere.

Also, once you don't accept incoming flights, you cannot provide outgoing flights. If no planes land, there is only so many outgoing flights you could do.

When they ban both, they are kind of stating the obvious, which is a good idea right now to avoid having people go to the airport to try to flight out, for whatever reason.

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  • This isn't necessarily true, countries could send empty planes to repatriate their citizens without having effective incoming planes. Such planes could fly in with just a double air crew that stays on board (no passengers) and fly out with their citizens. – JJJ Apr 1 at 22:01
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    @JJforTransparencyandMonica they do. The "ban" does not include those flights. Not only they still repatriate, they keep on receiving medical supplies for example and moving people inside each country. The "ban" is mostly for normal, (scheduled or not), commercial flights. Just go to flightaware.com and see how "partial" the bans are. Like this one, that took off some two hours ago from a country with a total ban. By the way, they keep the flight number when they are repatriating. – Eduardo Trápani Apr 1 at 23:44

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