Restrictions on international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic: the role of nationality

Professor Barbara von Tigerstrom1

1University Of Saskatchewan, , Canada

The widespread use of restrictions on international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised many legal and ethical questions. This presentation will address one of these: what role should nationality play in decisions to implement travel restrictions? On one hand, distinctions based on nationality (rather than travel history or other risk factors) would rarely be justified on scientific grounds and could be criticized as discriminatory. On the other, some aspects of national and international law – most notably, the right to enter one’s own country that is protected in human rights instruments – may require different treatment of certain groups. Using examples of border measures from Australia and selected other countries, this paper will consider when, why, and how distinctions based on nationality have been made (or not made), how they relate to other relevant factors, and what distinctions could be justified or even necessary under international law. This will highlight the interaction between the International Health Regulations (2005), as the primary instrument governing public health measures affecting international traffic, and other parts of the international legal framework, especially human rights law. The examples will also illustrate the range of ways in which travel can be restricted and the practical and legal effect of different strategies.


Barbara von Tigerstrom is a Professor at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, where she teaches health law, information and privacy law, and tort law. Her work in public health examines domestic and international legal issues relating to both infectious and non-communicable diseases.

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