The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moved a whopping 22 nations, including Australia, into its highest-risk travel category for COVID on Tuesday, moving just two into the Level 4 category last week.
The Council of the European Union also removed removed Australia, along with Argentina and Canada, from their list of countries for which travel restrictions should be lifted.
Watch the video above to hear Qantas announce their international travel plans
Despite having maintained some of the strictest border controls during most of the pandemic, both Australia and Argentina weren’t able to escape the CDC move to Level 4.
The CDC places a destination at Level 4 when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days, and advises travellers to avoid travelling to countries within this category.
The 22 new destinations, with at least one entry from every continent except Antarctica, at Level 4 are:
• Albania• Argentina• Australia• Bahamas• Bahrain• Bermuda• Bolivia• British Virgin Islands• Cape Verde• Egypt• Grenada• Guyana• Israel• Panama• Qatar• Saint Kitts and Nevis• Saint Lucia• São Tomé and Príncipe• Sint Maarten• Suriname• Turks and Caicos Islands• Uruguay
The level 4 list now surpasses more than 100 places, and you can view the risk levels for global destinations on the CDC travel recommendations page.
The British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean had the biggest move upward in the list, sitting in the “low risk” Level 1 category just last week.
Grenada, another Caribbean island, and São Tomé and Príncipe, off the coast of Africa, had been a “moderate risk” Level 2 last week.
The other 19 destinations on the list had previously been at “high risk” Level 3.
Where Europe sits on the list
Europe saw only one new CDC entry at Level 4 this week – Albania. That’s because much of Europe has remained firmly lodged in that category for weeks or months now, including some of the continent’s biggest names:
• France• Germany• Greece• Iceland• Ireland• Italy• Spain• United Kingdom
The CDC does not include the United States in its list of advisories, but it was colour-coded at Level 4 on January 18 on the agency’s map of travel risk levels.
In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.
Level 3 additions
The CDC also moved 22 additional nations to its Level 3 category, which is considered “high” risk for COVID.
The Level 3 category – which applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days – also saw a staggering 22 new additions on Tuesday:
• Costa Rica• Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)• Cuba• Fiji• Gabon• Ghana• Jamaica• Kuwait• Madagascar• Malawi• Mauritania• Morocco• Mozambique• Nigeria• Paraguay• The Philippines• Saba• Saint Barthelemy• Saint Pierre and Miquelon• Sint Eustatius• Togo• Uganda
There were shreds of good news from southeastern African neighbors Malawi and Mozambique, which both moved down from Level 4.
The move into Level 3 was bad news for Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Morocco and Uganda in Africa, which all moved up two steps from Level 1.
The Caribbean islands of Saba, Saint Barthelemy and Sint Eustatius also moved up from Level 1, as did Paraguay in South America and the Philippines in Southeast Asia.
Half of the places new to Level 3 this week moved up from Level 2: Costa Rica, Cuba, Gabon, Jamaica, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Togo, Fiji and Kuwait.
There are now almost 60 destinations at Level 3.
Cruise ships top the list
The CDC also includes cruise ships on its destinations list. On December 30, the CDC increased the risk for cruise ship travel to Level 4, where it remained in the newest update.
Meanwhile, the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance has become optional for many cruise ships.
Their extended conditional sailing order expired last week, so the agency has transitioned to a voluntary program for foreign-flagged cruise ships operating in US waters.
Travel considerations in a COVID world
Transmission rates are important to consider when making travel decisions, but there are other factors to weigh as well, according Dr Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and professor of health policy and management.
“The transmission rates are one guidepost,” Dr Wen said.
“Another is what precautions are required and followed in the place that you’re going and then the third is what are you planning to do once you’re there.
“Are you planning to visit a lot of attractions and go to indoor bars? That’s very different from you’re going somewhere where you’re planning to lie on the beach all day and not interact with anyone else. That’s very different. Those are very different levels of risk.”
Vaccination is the most significant safety factor for travel since unvaccinated travellers are more likely to become ill and transmit COVID-19 to others, Dr Wen said.
She said people should be wearing a high-quality mask – N95, KN95 or KF94 – anytime they’re in crowded indoor settings with people of unknown vaccination status.
Before you travel, it’s also important to consider what you would do if you end up testing positive away from home, Dr Wen said. Where will you stay and how easy will it be to get a test to return home?