On the 31 December 2019, World Health Organisation was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. The virus did not match any other known virus. One week later, on the 7 January, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified the new virus as a form of coronavirus.
On Jan. 22 China suspended plane, train and bus travel to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China where the virus was first detected. More recently China has taken even more dramatic steps to contain the virus by placing a total of 17 cities with more than 50 million people on lockdown.
Clearly this is a massive step and indicates how seriously China is taking the potential threat that the virus poses. Given that the incubation for the known Coronavirus is up to 14 days, that gives us a period between the 17th December to the 22nd January when the virus could have spread beyond Wuhan. The big question for the rest of us is, how many people travelled to and from Wuhan, where are they now, how do we trace them and how many are infected?
This puts the border community on the frontline in the fight against the Coronavirus and any future pandemic. We have some existing tools available, such as visa applications, Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) and Passenger Name Record (PNR). But these are currently inadequate. Why? Visa applications are only for travelling citizens that require them. APIS only requires, name, date of birth, nationality, country of residence, travel document type and number.
Only in the US is an address of the first night spent required, which in this scenario is invaluable. PNR is the only system that contains the itinerary for a passenger. But if that traveller has any form of broken travel or books one leg via another agency, then the trail is lost.
However, probably the biggest problem is that these systems are not universally adopted, and information is only shared through bilateral agreements between a limited number of countries; primarily because of privacy concerns. Let us hope that this outbreak of Coronavirus is soon contained before too many people suffer.
But as a pandemic is probably the most immediate existential threat to mankind, so some sort of mandatory hybrid of the available systems that contains the itinerary for the whole journey is in everyone’s interest.
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Border Security Report in this issue:- World Migration Report 2020 Launched- Lessons from Algeria on foreign terrorist fighters- Navigating borderlands in the Sahel Border security governance and mixed migration in Liptako-Gourma- Passive Terahertz Technology Enables International Customs Agencies to Fill a Critical Gap in Border Security- Agency News- World Border Security Congress- Industry News