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A nurse checks the temperature of a passenger arriving in Sydney airport. Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

A recent study found countries with certain international travel restrictions have suffered fewer COVID-19 deaths.

Why it matters: Before the novel coronavirus, most experts believed border closures weren't effective in slowing the spread of a pandemic. But it's become clear that addressing how people move is key to controlling a disease, even if closures come with serious costs.

What's happening: Researchers in Germany studied the effect of entry bans and mandatory quarantines on COVID-19 mortality, and found the earlier such measures were implemented, the greater the effect they had on limiting deaths.

  • Countries that put in place travel restrictions in early March had morality rates 62% less than countries that implemented them after mid-March, or not at all.

Of note: The study found mandatory quarantines for incoming travelers were more effective than outright entry bans, largely because such bans often exempted citizens and permanent residents, while quarantines usually applied to everyone.

  • That was the case with the U.S. ban on travel from China, which was applied a month after China first reported COVID-19 outbreaks and which exempted citizens and permanent residents.
  • The U.S. lost track of at least 1,600 people flying in from China in just the first few days after the ban went into effect, according to reporting from the AP.
  • Border controls are of little use if governments don't track and quarantine travelers coming from infected areas.

Between the lines: Travel within a country — which is much harder to restrict than international movement — clearly spread the virus as well.

  • A recent paper from researchers at New York University found "urban flight" — people fleeing large cities that hosted some of the first major outbreaks of the novel coronavirus — led to greater COVID-19 case growth in the regions they arrived in.

The bottom line: A virus only moves with its host. One lesson we should learn for future pandemics is that restricting that movement is key to controlling a new pathogen, even though the costs of such controls will only grow in a globalized world.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

J&J says its one-shot vaccine is 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID

Photo: Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that its single-shot coronavirus vaccine was 66% effective in protecting against moderate to severe COVID-19 disease in Phase 3 trials, which was comprised of nearly 44,000 participants across eight countries.

Between the lines: The vaccine was 72% effective in the U.S., but only 57% effective in South Africa, where a more contagious variant has been spreading. It prevented 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths, according to the company.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Louisiana officials find "probable" Omicron case in cruise ship COVID outbreak — CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private employers — Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy.
  4. World: U.S. announces $400M for global COVID vaccine distribution — Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.