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The Flight of Ebola

On October 17, 2014, Nate Silver published an article on why a ban on air travel to the West African countries affected by ebola would not work. Four days later, the United States forced any flights from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone into one of five East Coast airports, where passengers would then be screened for ebola. This was probably a smart move by the U.S. government, as it was an excellent compromise between completely shutting down travel to West Africa and leaving the gate open wide for ebola to spread.

The fivethirtyeight article highlights that the U.S. banning flights to these West African countries would not prevent travelers from reaching their final destination, because of their ability to reroute to their final destination. For instance, the global air travel network would allow a Liberian attempting to visit the United States to hop on a flight to Paris, London, or some other European middleman. In fact, the majority of flights going from West Africa to another continent travel to Europe. Because of this, it would actually be detrimental to the U.S. to have banned flights to West Africa, rather than allowing them to enter and receive screening. If a ban was put in place, the United States would have no control over potential ebola patients entering the country. If nothing was done, patients could still fly right in, making the move by the United States optimal, as we have our own “roadblock” per say.

There are two other fairly apparent ways to keep ebola out of the United States. The first way, which would have no chance of occurring due to a disastrous economic effect, would be to ban travel out of the United States. In essence, this would create two giant travel components in the world, the United States, and the rest of the world. The alternate way, also not realistic, would create two giant network components, one being the West African countries affected by ebola and the other being the rest of the globe. My takeaway was that the best way to prevent worldwide spread is through filtering travelers through prudent screening, rather than full-fledged bans, for which society would suffer economically.


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