CDC issues updated travel guidance for dozens of countries, including Japan

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Just in time for summer vacation travel, the CDC updated its travel recommendations for dozens of countries. Travel restrictions have been relaxed for more than 110 countries, including Mexico and Canada. This is good news for people hoping to enjoy a summer vacation away from home this year.

On Monday the CDC provided new guidance on its website. Sixty-one nations were lowered from the highest rating of Level 4 which discouraged all travel to a recommendation of travel for fully vaccinated travelers. Continuing with the tiered levels of recommendations, fifty countries and territories were lowered to Level 2 or Level 1. Level 1 is the safest destination for travel in the age of the pandemic. The countries ranked as lowest risk include our neighbors to the north and south, Canada and Mexico, as well as Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Iceland, Belize, and Albania. France, Ecuador, the Philippines, South Africa, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Honduras, Hungary, and Italy.

The State Department also eased its travel recommendations. Notably, Japan is on both the CDC and State Department lists. On May 24 the State Department advised against travel to Japan. The Tokyo Olympics are set to begin on July 23 and the United States confirmed plans to participate despite the State Department’s guidance. Japan has banned foreign spectators due to its latest wave of coronavirus cases.

The U.S. State Department said it had updated its recommendations to reflect the recent methodology update, but noted not all ratings were revised because of other factors including “ commercial flight availability,  restrictions  on U.S. citizen entry, and impediments to obtaining COVID test results within three calendar days.”

The State Department eased its ratings on 85 countries and territories, including Japan.

The CDC made its changes after revising its criteria for travel health notices. The United States, for example, has been lowered from Level 4 to Level 3.

The agency said the new criteria for a Level 4 “avoid all travel” recommendation has changed to 500 cases per 100,000 from 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000.

The agency added that many countries have lower ratings “because of the criteria changes or because their outbreaks are better controlled.” The CDC said it expects more countries to get lower, more favorable travel ratings.

Other countries being lowered to “Level 3” include Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Libya, Panama, Poland, Denmark and Malaysia.

At level 2, the agency recommends that unvaccinated travelers avoid visiting those countries if they are at severe risk for illness from Covid-19. These nations, like Finland, Cambodia and Kenya, are currently reporting 50-99 cases per 100,000. For Level 1 countries like Australia and New Zealand, both considered the lowest risk destinations, they have reported less than 50 COVID cases in the last 28 days.

The CDC still recommends that all travelers get vaccinated, even those traveling to low risk countries.

The CDC isn’t quite ready to loosen up its grip on travel restrictions completely, though, even with increased levels of vaccinations.

Asked why the United States is maintaining the restrictions even though some countries that now have low infection rates are subject to them, while others with high rates are exempt, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday the issue was subject to “an interagency conversation, and we are looking at the data in real time as to how we should move forward with that.”

Reuters reported on Tuesday the Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the UK to determine how best to restart travel safely after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, citing a White House official.

It is probably no coincidence that airlines in both the U.S. and the U.K. are pressuring both countries to lift travel restrictions. The travel industry is desperate to get back in order to not miss another summer of revenue. CEOs of American Airlines, IAG unit British Airways, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp. held a virtual news conference to push for removal of travel restrictions between the U.S. and the U.K. Some countries have begun to allow vaccinated Americans in. France, for example, will begin to allow American visitors in today. United Airlines said it will resume Paris flights from Washington in July. Delta will also be adding flights to France.

The key to more options in traveling internationally appears to remain with vaccinations. If you are vaccinated, Spain announced this week you can visit regardless if you are traveling from a low risk country or a high risk one. Spain wants to re-establish itself as a world tourism leader.

Under the new rules, travellers coming from countries identified as “risk” zones will be able to enter Spain so long as they have a “certificate of vaccination” or “recovery” from coronavirus, as well as a negative COVID-19 test, with antigen tests now accepted alongside PCR tests.

Those coming from low-risk zones will not be required to provide proof of vaccination, recovery or a diagnostic test, the Spanish government said.

There are still hoops to jump through to travel abroad but, frankly, that has been the case for years depending on which countries a traveler wishes to go. Some countries have required certain vaccinations against viruses for many years. For example, the CDC advises yellow fever vaccinations for people traveling to some parts of South America and Africa. Some countries require proof of vaccination along with the traveler’s passport. The coronavirus pandemic is adding another layer of red tape. For now it looks as though if you are not willing to be vaccinated, you will have to either provide proof of immunity from having the virus or submitting to tests to prove a negative result.