Pandemic Restrictions Are Eroding Our Freedom To Travel
A collective “huh” echoed earlier this month after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced checkpoints to enforce quarantine restrictions on travelers from places with high risk of COVID-19 infection. While states have imposed similar controls on each other’s residents since the beginning of the pandemic, for a city to do so is a big step in the accelerating erosion of the freedom to travel. And it may well be a sign of what we can expect in the future.
“Travelers who have visited 35 designated states or territories with high COVID-19 transmission rates are required to complete the New York State Department of Health traveler form and quarantine for a period of 14 days upon entering New York City,” the mayor’s office announced on August 5. “The [Department of Finance] Sheriff’s Office, in coordination with other law enforcement agencies, will operate traveler registration checkpoints at major bridge and tunnel crossings into New York City.”
As with all things done by New York City’s government, the reality of the “checkpoint” policy is sloppier than officials would have you believe. Cars are seemingly being stopped at random without regard for the issuing authority of their license plates. Completion of the traveler form is done on the honor system, though failure to comply carries a $2,000 fine. But, however haphazard, the checkpoints are probably a disincentive to many people who might otherwise visit the city.
State-imposed travel restrictions have proliferated since Rhode Island stopped New Yorkers at the border and even chased down those who slipped through back in March.
“Many jurisdictions have responded to the unevenness of the unfolding pandemic by battening down their borders,” according to the New England Journal of Medicine. “Nearly half the states have imposed interstate travel restrictions to date… Eight have imposed restrictions on entrants from all states, 12 have imposed them only on entrants from selected high-prevalence areas, and 4 have shifted between these positions.”
Americans aren’t alone. Canadian provinces imposed similar travel restrictions, as have Australian states. Residents of Melbourne are limited to leaving their homes one at a time, once per day, to shop for “essential goods” within a 5-kilometers radius. Movement is restricted in and out of Auckland, New Zealand.
It’s all justified in the name of fighting the pandemic, but that’s a flimsy argument. Health experts are highly skeptical of the value of restricting people’s movements.
“The results of our systematic review indicate that overall travel res
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