Travelers researching international trips during the coronavirus pandemic have been confronted with conflicting government advice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has one system of rating the risks by country, the U.S. State Department another, producing different travel alert levels for the same country in many cases. Mexico, a popular vacation spot with American vacationers this year, is deemed a level 4 by the CDC – meaning avoid all travel – but a level 3 by the State Department – meaning “reconsider travel.” The Bahamas was just raised to a level 4 by the CDC and is a level 3 on the State Department scale.
The State Department is about to clear up some of that confusion, and the news is not good for travelers pondering a trip abroad.
The State Department on Monday said it is raising the alert level for a significant number of countries this week as it factors the CDC’s COVID data more heavily into its rating system.
“As travelers face ongoing risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State will begin updating its travel advisories this week to better reflect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s science-based Travel Health Notices that outline current issues affecting travelers’ health,” the department said in a statement. “Our advisories also take into account logistical factors, including in-country testing availability and current travel restrictions for U.S. citizens.”
The agency said approximately 80% of countries will now carry the “Do not travel” label, a level 4.
Today, just 34 of 209 countries, or about 16% are rated a level 4. Nearly 150 countries, or about 70%, fall into level 3.
The State Department said the pandemic continues to pose “unprecedented risks” to travelers.
“In light of those risks, the Department of State strongly recommends U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad.”
The increased alert level comes as the number of vaccinated Americans is increasing and COVID restrictions are being lifted in many states and in some countries. Iceland, Croatia, Greece and Israel are among the countries welcoming or about to welcome vaccinated Americans.
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In early April, the CDC said fully vaccinated Americans can resume domestic and international travel at low risk to themselves. But it noted that international travel poses additional risks given the spread of new COVID-19 variants.
Despite the new guidance for vaccinated travelers, the CDC says people should stay home.
“CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the number of rising cases,” director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing in early April.
Millions of Americans are ignoring the advice, with travel rising steadily this spring, according to Transportation Security Administration screening numbers and optimism about bookings from airline executives.
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