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Health & Science

Why A Flight Ban To Curb Ebola’s Spread Is Unlikely

Senator Ted Cruz is one of several GOP legislators proposing a ban.


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As the U.S struggles to contain the spread of Ebola, a number of Republican legislators, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, are calling for the Obama administration to ban commercial flights to the U.S. from the affected regions of West Africa. But enforcing such a ban would be far from simple.

In the spring of 2003, the U.S. faced another looming public health threat — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, better known as SARS. The disease spread across much of East Asia, but was largely concentrated in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam — all regions with non-stop flights to the U.S. That helped CDC inspectors to screen out infected passengers and contain the spread of the disease.

Daniel Baker is CEO of FlightAware, a Houston-based flight tracking service.

“In this case,” Baker says, “with the exception of, perhaps, a flight from Lagos to Houston, which is not really one of the affected areas in Nigeria, the way that passengers have been getting to the U.S. and continue to get to the U.S. is through a number of different airports in the Middle East and Europe, and there’s no real non-stop service from the affected areas.”

Baker says there are hundreds of potential routes linking West Africa to the U.S by way of Europe or the Middle East. That jumps into the thousands when U.S. domestic flights are factored in. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who died in a Dallas hospital earlier this month, flew from Liberia to Belgium to Washington’s Dulles Airport before landing at Dallas/Fort Worth.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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