OBJECTIVES: During the COVID-19 pandemic, internal European borders were temporarily re-established to mitigate the outbreak. Much research on pandemic border control measures has focused on quantifying their effectiveness for infectious disease control as well as on their social consequences for cross-border life in the European Union. However, little attention has been paid to the impacts for the practice and organisation of cross-border public health. To address this gap, the present study analysed the experiences and perspectives of public health professionals working in European border regions regarding border control measures in the pandemic.
STUDY DESIGN: Qualitative interview-based study.
METHODS: In total, 27 semistructured interviews with public health professionals were conducted in the border regions between Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Participants were asked about their perspectives on border control and the spread of COVID-19 in the region. Interviews were performed between December 2020 and April 2021 and carried out in German, English, Dutch and French.
RESULTS: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, borders had become largely invisible with extensive cross-border social life and mobility. Participants were sceptical about the role of cross-border mobility as a pandemic driver and consequently the effectiveness of enforcing border control for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in their border regions. At the same time, participants raised concerns about the negative consequences for the social fabric and provision of cross-border public health.
CONCLUSIONS: Public health professionals highlighted the uncertain role of border control measures for regional infectious disease control in border regions. Rather than border control, sustainable cross-border communication and collaboration is crucial to ensure effective pandemic management in border regions.
- Border control
- Public health professionals
- Qualitative research