Should we close borders in a pandemic?

biohazard

There will almost certainly be future pandemic diseases that pose a grave threat to human lives. Pandemic influenza, novel emerging infectious agents and possible synthetic bioweapons all pose serious risks. It seems biologically plausible that a new infectious agent might have the transmission characteristics of influenza and the death rate of Ebola.

In our modeling study we explored the costs and benefits of complete border closure to protect the island nation of New Zealand during a global pandemic.

Our cost-benefit analysis took a societal perspective and included case-study specific epidemiological data from past influenza pandemics. Country-specific healthcare cost data, valuation of life, and lost tourism revenue as well as a complete end to trade.

Even in the face of a complete end to tourism, exports and imports, a net benefit was estimated for scenarios where the mortality rate was very high at 2.75% of the country’s population dying. In this situation the net benefit was NZ$54 billion. Even for lower mortality rates there was a period of closure between 12 and 26 weeks at which the net benefit switched from favorable to unfavorable.

This “proof-of-concept” modeling work suggests that in some extreme pandemic scenarios it may make sense for New Zealand to close its borders.