Walls go up all around the world as governments fight to slow spread of COVID-19

Countries around the world are taking drastic steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. The measures are mostly border closures and travel bans, but they also include some local lockdowns and curfews. The past 72 hours have seen a major tightening and the next 48 will bring even more.

A tour of the new border and travel restrictions cropping up on every continent

Peru's Alianza Lima and Argentina's Racing Club play a Copa Libertadores soccer match at the Presidente Peron stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, March 12, 2020. The match was played in an empty, closed door stadium as part of the government's measures to contain transmission of the new coronavirus. (Gustavo Garello/The Associated Press)

All around the world, borders are closing.

A running summary of measures taken on all five continents, compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross, shows that the lockdowns are spreading as fast as the virus itself.

It's a confusing patchwork of bans and restrictions that's constantly changing — mostly by becoming stricter.

Here are some of the highlights:

The Americas

Latin America and the Caribbean have seen fewer cases and fewer deaths than most other regions of the world, but governments that want to keep it that way have taken some extreme steps.

Some of the most severe measures in this hemisphere have been enacted in Puerto Rico, where Governor Wanda Vasquez has imposed a 9 pm to 5 am curfew.

Anyone found on the streets during those hours (who is not there because of a genuine emergency) risks arrest.

Even during daytime hours, Puerto Ricans are only allowed to leave their homes to purchase essential supplies or seek medical treatment. Most private and public business are closed.

A man gets help tying a face mask for protection against the COVID-19 illness in downtown in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Ecuador President Lenin Moreno has declared a state of emergency, ordering citizens to stay in their homes to contain the spread of coronavirus. (Dolores Ochoa/The Associated Press)

The most severe travel restrictions in the hemisphere — some of the strictest anywhere in the world — are in Ecuador, which shut its air, land and sea borders to all foreigners at midnight Sunday, and then closed them to Ecuadoran citizens and residents 24 hours later.

Ecuador is one of the only countries in the world that is keeping out its own people.

Neighbouring Peru has closed its borders to foreigners and closed most businesses other than banks, pharmacies and food markets.

Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and El Salvador have all barred foreigners from entry for at least two weeks. Colombia's ban runs until May 30 — one of the longest so far announced anywhere in the world.

Most other countries in the region have restrictions on entry for citizens of, or people who have been in, certain countries associated with the epidemic. China is still the country most mentioned in special regulations, but European, Iranian, Japanese and South Korean travellers have also been barred or subjected to quarantine in orders issued by several countries.

Paraguay, for example, has rescinded all visas issued to Chinese nationals.


France has been in lockdown since noon local time Tuesday March 17. Land borders are closed, as are schools, sporting and cultural sites and all retail businesses other than those deemed essential, such as pharmacies, banks, gas stations and grocery stores.

Germany's borders are not completely closed, but as of Monday its northern, western and southern borders are open only to travellers who have "valid reasons" for travel and the documentation to prove it. The country's eastern border (with Poland and the Czech Republic) is operating normally.

Police officers wearing protective masks check papers at a control point at the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. France is imposing nationwide restrictions on how far from their homes people can go and for what purpose as part of the country's strategy to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's disease control and prevention agency, has said some measures could be in place for two years.

Beginning at midnight Tuesday, until May 1, Russia will bar most foreign visitors from entry. Those who can enter will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Like Canada, Russia is exempting flight crews and truck drivers from the ban and the self-isolation requirement. Russia is permitting some foreigners to transit through its airports.

Turkey has banned foreigners from 21 countries, all in Europe or Asia, and has also halted all flights from those destinations. Ankara has also ordered the closure of Turkey's eastern land borders.

Ukraine has banned all foreign nationals from entering by air, land and sea for two weeks from March 15.

Some European countries have banned nationals of only the most affected countries, while others, including Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania and Ukraine, have banned all foreign nationals from entering, mostly for a two-week period subject to extension.

Perhaps the most extreme measures are in Lithuania, which has even banned its own citizens from leaving the country, on pain of prosecution.

Virtually every country in Europe has enacted special measures aimed at barring or isolating anyone coming from Italy. Several have also stopped flights and ferries from Italy.

Middle East and North Africa

In the Middle East, Iran has been the focal point of infection, and neighbouring countries such as Iraq, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan have sealed it off with border closures.

A growing number of countries are shutting their airports and borders, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, and Tunisia.

Algeria has closed all air and sea links to Europe, and Morocco has suspended most air and all ferry links.

A woman wears a mask as she waits for public transportation in Hadera, Israel, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. The head of Israel's shadowy Shin Bet internal security service said Tuesday that his agency received Cabinet approval overnight to start deploying its counter-terrorism tech measures to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Israel. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

Israel is asking anyone who wishes to travel there to contact an Israeli embassy at least five days before arrival in the country and provide information, including an address where they must commit to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival in the country.

Anyone who has been at any international conference, or visited the following countries in the past 14 days, may not enter Israel: China, Macao, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, France, Spain, San Marino, Andorra, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Some countries that had announced limited bans between March 13 and March 16 have since expanded them.

Sub-Saharan Africa

It's a part of the world that is considered highly vulnerable to COVID-19 but has mercifully seen relatively few cases so far.

The last few days, though, have seen a dawning realization on the continent that coronavirus is unlikely to stay away for long.

Some countries, such as Lesotho, have opted for near-total bans, but many others have merely required self-quarantine for a limited number of travellers — in most cases, those who have been in China in the past two weeks. 

Many African countries have added other destinations to the quarantine list in recent days, including France, Italy, Iran, and South Korea.

A Kenyan woman wears a surgical face mask on a busy street in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Friday, March 13, 2020. Authorities in Kenya said Friday that a Kenyan woman who recently traveled from the United States via London has tested positive for the new coronavirus, the first case in the East African country. (Patrick Ngugi/The Associated Press)

Kenya today began a two-week long border closure and will only permit the entry of citizens and legal residents. It is also requiring anyone who entered the country in the past two weeks to self-quarantine.

Rwanda had seven confirmed cases as of Tuesday, leading neighbouring Burundi to shut its land border. 

South Africa has the largest number of confirmed cases in the region — over 60. It declared a state of emergency on Sunday and stopped issuing new visas to nationals from Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the U.K., the U.S. and China. As of tomorrow, the country will ban citizens of those nations and close 35 land border crossings as well as two seaports.

Anyone who has already arrived in South Africa from a high-risk destination since the middle of February is also required to present themselves to authorities for testing.

Zimbabwe is one of a number of countries that has said it may require visitors to present a medical certificate declaring them to be disease-free.


The virus famously began in Asia, but some Asian countries have so far been spared the worst.

India, for example, has seen only 120 confirmed cases, compared to 220 in Iceland (although most Indian experts believe that the true number is higher).

India wants to keep it that way and as of Tuesday night (March 17) it will ban all travellers from Afghanistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The following day the ban will expand to include all travellers from the European Union, non-EU countries in western Europe, and the U.K. The delay appears to be intended to allow all travellers currently en route from Europe to reach their destination.

Taiwanese army soldiers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant over a road during a drill to prevent community cluster infection, in New Taipei City, Taiwan, Saturday, March 14, 2020. The city’s authorities conducted the drill to simulate the situation before and after community cluster infection of the new coronavirus. The drill’s scenario assumes that the COVID-19 had spread within a community of hundreds of people living in buildings. (Chiang Ying-ying/The Associated Press)

The past 48 hours have seen a major ramping up of restrictions in many countries, including Taiwan, which introduced a compulsory four-day quarantine for anyone arriving from one of about 60 affected nations, mostly in Europe and the Middle East.

In the Philippines, the government of Rodrigo Duterte has placed all of Luzon Island, home to half the country's people and the capital Manila, under strict home quarantine. All international flights in and out will cease on Friday March 20.

As of today (March 17), Sri Lanka will ban entry to travellers from Canada, several European countries, as well as Bahrain, Iran, Qatar and South Korea. The country never enacted a ban on Chinese travellers and they can still obtain electronic visas, though not on-arrival visas. Sri Lanka is the only Asian country to specifically ban people who have been in Canada in the past four days. Sri Lanka is also one of the countries that is putting its own citizens in compulsory 14-day quarantine if they return from one of the destinations on the list.

Hong Kong's system of border controls is distinct from that of mainland China, and as of today it requires 14-day quarantine for anyone who has been in one of 26 European countries. As of Thursday the quarantine requirement will be extended to cover anyone who has recently been in the U.K., U.S., Ireland or Egypt. (The requirement has been in place for some time already for anyone arriving from mainland China, Iran, or Hokkaido, Japan.)

Hong Kongers themselves face increasing restrictions when they seek to travel to a number of countries, including Russia, Japan and Israel.

Malaysia may soon be one of the strictest countries in Asia. Starting Wednesday, foreign nationals will be barred from entering and Malaysians will be prevented from leaving.

Mainland China is a patchwork of restrictions imposed by different municipal and provincial authorities, with tight controls on domestic travel. Foreigners are still allowed to enter the country, but all are being quarantined at a central facility for four days (at their own expense). In practice, there is little inbound traffic in mainland China.


As recently as Saturday, New Zealand's requirement that all arrivals undergo 14 days of isolation — citizens included — was one of the strictest in the world (it exempted arrivals from a string of Polynesian and Melanesian islands only). 

Since then, it has been surpassed by other countries on every continent. Today its entry ban, which applies only to arrivals from mainland China or Iran, seems relatively mild.

Australia's list of banned countries is only slightly longer, including South Korea and Italy along with China and Iran. But Australia is requiring all other visitors to self-isolate for 14 days. Like many countries, from the Maldives to Senegal, it has also banned all cruise ships from docking at its ports.


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