By Nathan Diller
Washington – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its international Covid-19 travel advisory system on Monday, designating its highest-risk category for extreme scenarios.
As of Monday, the CDC dropped all countries from its “Level 4” category, now labelled “Special Circumstances/Do Not Travel.”
About 120 destinations now have a Level 3 advisory – including Australia, the UK, Italy and many other popular European destinations – for “high” levels of the Covid-19, while 12 destinations sit at Level 2. Another 55 are designated Level 1, its lowest-risk level.
“To help the public understand when the highest level of concern is most urgent, this new system will reserve Level 4 travel health notices for special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, or health-care infrastructure collapse,” the agency said last week.
The three lower-level warnings will continue to be determined mainly by 28-day Covid-19 incidence or case counts. “With this new configuration, travellers will have a more actionable alert for when they should not travel to a certain destination (Level 4), regardless of vaccination status, until we have a clearer understanding of the Covid-19 situation at that destination," the statement said.
During the pandemic, the CDC has updated weekly its list of countries travellers should avoid because of Covid-19, with its “Level 4” warning indicating very high levels of the Covid-19 and instructing all travellers to avoid the area.
Before this last update, about 90 countries were in the Level 4 category.
The State Department also shares its own advisories. Those include threats such as terrorism and natural disasters, while factoring in CDC recommendations.
Last month, in a letter to new White House coronavirus response co-ordinator Ashish Jha, the US Travel Association called for an end to “avoid travel” advisories, among other pandemic travel practices.
“The CDC should ensure that Americans are not dissuaded from travelling to any place with Covid-19 case rates that are equal to, or less than, the case rates prevailing in the US,” the letter read. “As conditions continue to improve, the CDC should end all ‘avoid travel’ advisories for vaccinated individuals."
However, the advisory system still has a useful function.
"The US State Department and CDC’s travel advisories are accurate and up to date," Abinash Virk, the former head of the travel clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and an infectious-disease specialist, told The Washington Post by email.
“They are reliable resources and extremely helpful to determine if travel to a certain location will be safe from a Covid-19 perspective or not.”
Last month, the CDC dropped cruises from its list of travel warnings. It had included notices for cruise ships since March 2020, when cruise liners stopped sailing from US waters for more than a year.