CDC: Much of Europe remains at highest travel risk for Covid

(CNN) — For the third straight week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not add a single new travel destination to its Level 4 highest-risk category for travel.

In fact, seven destinations in Asia and the Caribbean have been ranked in the CDC’s lowest-risk category Traveling during the pandemic is Level 1. Island excursions moved up that enviable ranking on Monday the philippines and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

But much of Europe – including its popular travel powerhouses – remained stubbornly at Level 4.

Take the UK for example. It has been at Level 4 since 19 July 2021. This means that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all fall into the ‘very high’ risk category for Covid-19.

The CDC assigns a Level 4 risk to a destination if there are more than 500 cases per 100,000 population have been registered in the last 28 days.

CDC: Avoid level 4 targets

The Ha’penny Bridge is a landmark in Dublin, Ireland. Like most of Europe, Ireland is at Level 4 of the CDC.

Shutterstock

It’s not just the UK. Many of Europe’s big names remain at Level 4 as the winter lifts and spring travel season kick off. As of April 11, this list included the following locations:

• France
• Germany
• Greece
• Ireland
• Italy
• Malta
• The Netherlands
• Portugal
• Spain

However, there are not only heavily visited travel destinations in Europe that remain on level 4 for the time being.

In Asia, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand are at Level 4. In South America, Brazil and Chile remain in the highest risk category. Ditto for the lush Central American retreat of Costa Rica. Other favorites awaiting a better grade from the CDC: Aruba, Australia and Bermuda.

Nonetheless, the general trend in risk levels has been downward in much of the world in recent weeks, and risk ratings have been downgraded in Africa in particular.

At the end of February, the number of spots in Level 4 swelled to over 140, which illustrates Omicron’s enormous reach and rapid spread. But on April 11, that number dwindled to about 90 targets. That’s less than half of the approximately 235 locations the CDC monitors.

The CDC advises avoiding travel to Level 4 countries. The CDC travel health warning thresholds are based primarily on the number of Covid-19 cases at a travel destination.

The CDC does not include the United States in its list of recommendations, but it was color-coded Level 3 on the agency’s travel risk level map on April 11.
In its broader travel advice, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

Few changes at level 3

A view of the old town in the Red Sea coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.  Egypt was classified at Level 3 by the CDC on Monday.

A view of the old town in the Red Sea coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Egypt was classified at Level 3 by the CDC on Monday.

Okla Michal/CTK/AP

In the Level 3 “High” risk category – which applies to targets that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 population in the last 28 days – there were only two admissions on Monday. They are:

• Egypt
• Saint Martin

Both were previously at level 4.

Those wanting to travel to Europe but avoid the riskiest destinations have few options here: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, all in the Balkan Peninsula, or Armenia, in the mountainous Caucasus region.

level 2

Destinations labeled “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” have seen 50 to 99 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days.

The only new entry into Level 2 on April 11 is Guyana, a small nation in northern South America that expects few international visitors. Guyana had been at level 3.

level 1

Pinagbuyutan Island is just one representative of the many stunning oceanic locations in the Philippines.  Travelers looking for a destination with a "Low" Risk ratings from the CDC have it here, although the ranking changes weekly.

Pinagbuyutan Island is just one representative of the many stunning oceanic locations in the Philippines. Travelers looking for a destination with a risk rating of “Low” from the CDC have it here, although the ranking changes weekly.

Igor Tikhonov/Adobe Stock

In a hopeful sign for travelers, Level 1 saw the most movement.

To be in Level 1: Covid-19 Low, a destination must have had fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last 28 days. Seven places moved to Level 1 on Monday:

• Bangladesh
• Haiti
• Myanmar
• Philippines
• Saint Kitts and Nevis
• Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
• Saudi Arabia

The largest movements belonged to Haiti, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia, which had been at Level 4. St. Vincent and the Grenadines were at Tier 3 and the rest moved down from Tier 2.

Most Tier 1 destinations are in Africa, including Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and Senegal.

unknown

Finally, there are destinations for which the CDC has an “unknown” risk due to a lack of information. Usually, but not always, these are small, remote places or places with ongoing wars or civil unrest. The CDC made three additions to the category Monday:

• Burkina Faso
• Faroe Islands
• Madagascar

Burkina Faso was at level 1 and the other two at level 4.

The Azores, Cambodia, Macau and Tanzania are among the places currently listed in the Unknown category. The CDC advises against traveling to these locations precisely because the risks are unknown.

A medical expert weighs the risk levels

According to CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, transmission rates are “a guide” for travelers’ personal risk calculations.

“We are entering a phase of the pandemic where people must make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting COVID-19,” Wen said in mid-February.

“They should interpret Level 4 to mean that this is a place with a lot of community transmission of Covid-19. So if you leave, you have a higher chance of contracting the coronavirus,” said Wen, who is an emergency room physician and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Some people will decide the risk is too high for them, Wen said. “Other people will say, ‘Because I’m vaccinated and refreshed, I’m willing to take that risk.’

“So this really has to be a personal choice that people weigh when they understand that the CDC is currently classifying the different tiers based on community transmission rates, and basically just that,” Wen said. “They don’t take individual circumstances into account.”

More considerations for travel

According to Wen, there are other factors to consider in addition to transfer rates.

“Transfer rates are a guide,” Wen said. “Another is what precautions are needed and followed at the place you are going and the third question is what you want to do once you are there.

“Planning to visit many attractions and go to indoor bars? This is very different than going somewhere where you lie on the beach all day and don’t want to interact with anyone. This is very different. Those are very different levels of risk.”

Vaccination is the most important safety factor for travel, as unvaccinated travelers are more likely to get sick and transmit Covid-19 to others, Wen said.

People should wear a quality mask — N95, KN95 or KF94 — when in crowded indoor spaces with people of unknown vaccination status, she said.

And it’s also important to consider what you would do if you tested positive while away from home. Where will you stay and how easy will it be to get a test to return home?

Picture above: The beach in Carvoeiro on the Portuguese Algarve coast. (Ines/Adobe Stock)

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