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CDC drops country-specific covid travel advisories

The agency previously designated countries by their current coronavirus risk level, from 1 to 4

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday ended its travel advisory program that designated countries by their coronavirus risk level. The agency will now only issue country-specific notices when covid-19 risk is extreme, as it does with other diseases.

The agency said its ability to determine a country’s covid risk level was limited as “fewer countries are testing or reporting,” and it made a decision to end the covid-specific travel designations, spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in a statement.

The CDC regularly issues travel health notices for countries and regions amid outbreaks of other infectious diseases, such as yellow fever and Ebola. The agency will now issue those notices for covid-19 when specific risk factors emerge in an area, such as a concerning new variant, Nordlund said.

All international travelers should stay up to date on coronavirus vaccines and follow the CDC’s recommendations for international travel, including testing before travel and wearing a mask on public transit, she added.

The CDC’s do not travel list, explained

The agency’s four-tiered labeling system had been updated each Monday since early in the pandemic, warning travelers where a country’s covid-19 risk level fell between Level 4, which advised people to avoid travel, and Level 1, the lowest risk. The designation between Levels 1 and 3 was determined primarily by 28-day case counts, while a Level 4 label indicated an extreme scenario, such as a surge in cases, new variant or health infrastructure collapse, the agency said in April.

Health experts had praised the CDC’s covid-19 designations, but the U.S. Travel Association urged the Biden administration in March to end all “avoid travel” advisories, arguing they discouraged travel to some countries where case rates were lower than the U.S. In April, the CDC shifted the four tiers, removing the Level 4 “avoid travel” warnings for about 90 countries and reserving that designation for the most extreme cases.

We asked: Should I travel to a Level 4 country?

The State Department maintains its own designation of country-specific travel advisories, which factor in covid-19 risk, but also consider dangers from terrorism, natural disaster and other threats.

For travelers looking for covid-specific information before their international trip, the World Health Organization’s coronavirus dashboard displays case counts and vaccinations by country. Websites like Sherpa and Kayak provide up-to-date information on travel restrictions in foreign countries.

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