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Open Access Research article

Modeling the impact of air, sea, and land travel restrictions supplemented by other interventions on the emergence of a new influenza pandemic virus

Ka Chun Chong* and Benny Chung Ying Zee

Author Affiliations

Division of Biostatistics, The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2012, 12:309  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-12-309

Published: 19 November 2012



During the early stages of a new influenza pandemic, travel restriction is an immediate and non-pharmaceutical means of retarding incidence growth. It extends the time frame of effective mitigation, especially when the characteristics of the emerging virus are unknown. In the present study, we used the 2009 influenza A pandemic as a case study to evaluate the impact of regulating air, sea, and land transport. Other government strategies, namely, antivirals and hospitalizations, were also evaluated.


Hong Kong arrivals from 44 countries via air, sea, and land transports were imported into a discrete stochastic Susceptible, Exposed, Infectious and Recovered (SEIR) host-flow model. The model allowed a number of latent and infectious cases to pass the border, which constitutes a source of local disease transmission. We also modeled antiviral and hospitalization prevention strategies to compare the effectiveness of these control measures. Baseline reproduction rate was estimated from routine surveillance data.


Regarding air travel, the main route connected to the influenza source area should be targeted for travel restrictions; imposing a 99% air travel restriction delayed the epidemic peak by up to two weeks. Once the pandemic was established in China, the strong land connection between Hong Kong and China rendered Hong Kong vulnerable. Antivirals and hospitalization were found to be more effective on attack rate reductions than travel restrictions. Combined strategies (with 99% restriction on all transport modes) deferred the peak for long enough to establish a vaccination program.


The findings will assist policy-makers with decisions on handling similar future pandemics. We also suggest regulating the extent of restriction and the transport mode, once restriction has been deemed necessary for pandemic control. Although travel restrictions have yet to gain social acceptance, they allow time for mitigation response when a new and highly intrusive virus emerges.