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COVID-19 has seen several Australian state governments take the extraordinary step of barring entry to other Australians in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

The closure of the NSW-Victoria border is the first time that's happened in a century.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said throughout the pandemic that states should keep their borders open if possible, although softening his stance in light of the recent surge of cases in Victoria.

Mining billionaire Clive Palmer has claimed the WA Government would "destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for decades" if it continued with hard border restrictions.

So where else have internal borders been closed, and has it worked? What lessons might Australia take from experiences elsewhere?

What does the World Health Organization say?

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus leaves a news conference
The World Health Organization this week released guidelines for countries looking to reopen to international travel.(Reuters: Fabrice Coffrini)

As the pandemic took hold in February, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised against the closure of even international borders, warning that restrictions could "have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries."

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"In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions," it said.

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Coronavirus questions answered

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Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC's Coronacast podcast.

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But many experts disagree with this assessment.

Dr Norman Swan, host of the ABC's Coronacast podcast, has said "our experience in Australia is different".

"The key thing in this which we've been saying on Coronacast for a long time now is that you go in hard and you go in early, therefore I think it is probably quite reasonable that Queensland shuts its borders to people from Greater Sydney," he said.

"You saw what happened with just a single man arriving in south-west Sydney from Victoria. That's probably the source of most of what's happened in New South Wales over the last couple of weeks."

Acknowledging the reality of the situation, whereby most countries around the world have introduced border restrictions, the WHO this week released guidelines for governments seeking a gradual return to allowing international travel.

China

China, where the virus was first detected in Wuhan, was the first to impose significant internal border restrictions, cutting off the city and surrounding Hubei province from the rest of the country for two months starting in late January.

Authorities closed all transport into and out of Wuhan on January 23, with its 11 million residents ordered to stay home. All non-essential shops and businesses were forced shut.

This approach has been replicated time and time again throughout the epidemic, with Chinese authorities "ring-fencing" affected areas to contain the spread.

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Drone footage of Wuhan taken on January 23, 2020

"The idea of ring-fencing has been around for a long time," said UNSW epidemiology professor Marylouise McLaws, who told the ABC that Chinese authorities had likely learnt from the SARS outbreak of 2002-4.

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"Had the Beijing authorities locked down the centre of the city, they may have changed the course of history for SARS within their country," she said.

Most recently, flights and trains in and out of the north-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak there.

Nevertheless, it took Chinese authorities more than weeks to order the shutdown of Wuhan after the coronavirus was first identified there in early January.

A study by researchers at the University of Southampton found that had these interventions been brought in three weeks earlier than they were, cases would have been reduced by a whopping 95 per cent.

Health Minister Ma Xiaowei acknowledged in June that China's battle against COVID-19 had "exposed some problems and shortcomings".

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The United States

The response to coronavirus in the United States could not have been more different.

Even as President Donald Trump shut down travel between the US and Europe in March, as well as other parts of the world hard-hit by the virus, travel within the US itself has been largely unrestricted.

In the same month he closed borders to Europeans, Mr Trump floated the idea of forcibly quarantining the hotspot states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, yet later backed down.

President Donald Trump wears a face mask as he tours the American Red Cross national headquarters.
The Trump administration has been heavily criticised for its response to COVID-19.(AP: Doug Mills via The New York Times)

Despite different states imposing drastically different social distancing and lockdown measures, state borders have not been closed.

Even with more than 150,000 deaths due to COVID-19, Americans have remained fairly free to travel domestically.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick".

It asks people who want to travel inside the country to consider a series of questions.

They include: "Is COVID-19 spreading where you're going?" and "Is COVID-19 spreading in your community?"

But beyond an obvious warning there are no clear directions.

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A drone video of empty New York during the coronavirus lockdown.

New York State says arrivals from states with "significant community spread of COVID-19" have to self-quarantine for two weeks. Most states, however, have no such rule.

A study published in April found that Americans were divided over the idea of "a travel ban between US states".

A survey of 3,000 Americans found that around the same proportion strongly agreed with imposing border restrictions (38.5 per cent), as disagreed (37.7 per cent), compared with 23.9 per cent who neither agreed or disagreed.

"When trying to contain a pandemic, border closures are essential," wrote one of the study's authors, Sara Wallace Goodman, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine.

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"A lack of consistent messaging from the federal government or central leadership — especially when it actually encourages competition instead of cooperation — suggests a deeper problem: a lack of national solidarity."

Senior US officials Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx stand in front of a banner reading
Senior US health officials Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx participate in an event in Washington.(AP: Evan Vucci)

The European Union

The EU implemented a 30-day ban on non-essential travel to the bloc for non-European citizens on March 17.

While the European Union is not a single country, its Schengen Area generally operates like one for the purposes of travel.

In normal times there are no passport or other border controls between the borders of 26 EU member states, with a common visa policy.

But COVID-19 has seen these rules largely thrown out the window, with many Schengen countries establishing border controls.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban wears a protective face mask as he arrives for a round table meeting at an EU summit.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban wears a protective face mask at an EU summit in Brussels.(AP: Francois Lenoir)

Denmark, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — where governments were already anti-immigration — were among countries that closed their borders completely. Germany and Belgium banned all "non-essential" travel.

Professor Karin Leder is the head of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at Monash University's School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.

"A good way to think about whether international or domestic border closures make sense or not is to consider the gradient of risk of acquiring COVID-19 in different geographic regions," she said.

"If people are travelling between two areas with similar COVID-19 incidence, then border closures are unlikely to offer any significant public health advantage, and will be associated with negative economic impacts."

Italy and then Spain were devastated by the coronavirus early on.

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Source : https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-01/coronavirus-australia-internal-border-closures-around-the-world/12507250

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