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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are suggesting travelers avoid seven new locations as of Aug. 30 due to increasing case levels of COVID-19, including Puerto Rico, Switzerland and St. Lucia.
In updated guidance released earlier this week, the CDC issued Level 4 travel advisories to warn against travel to the aforementioned destinations, in addition to Azerbaijan, Estonia, Guam and North Macedonia. Separately, the U.S. Department of State issued corresponding Level 4 warnings to five of the seven locations — excluding Puerto Rico and Guam, as the State Department does not issue travel advisories for U.S. territories
Level 4: Do Not Travel is the State Department’s highest travel advisory and aligns with the CDC’s Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19. The CDC issues travel health notices based on the COVID-19 incidence rate. Countries with 500-plus cases of COVID-19 per 100,00 residents in the past 28 days are upgraded to Level 4, marking a 0.5% increase in the number of cases. Countries with 100-500 cases fall into Level 3: High Level of COVID-19, 50-99 cases are considered Level 2: Moderate Level of COVID-19 and Level 1: Low Level of COVID-19 is for countries who have reported fewer than 50 cases within the 28-day period.
The State Department-issued travel advisories also serve as a warning to visitors should they choose to continue with planned travel, reflective of ongoing safety concerns.
This week’s batch of new warnings primarily reflects increased COVID-19 numbers, except for Azerbaijan, where the State Department has said to “reconsider travel due to terrorism concerns.” Specific warnings are indicated by initials in the top right-hand corner and are based on certain risk indicators including widespread crime, terrorist activity, civil unrest, kidnapping/hostage-taking and current events.
“The Department of State has factored CDC’s Travel Health Notices into our travel advice for U.S. citizens, and we have continued this practice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to CDC’s advice, the Department also takes into account logistical factors, including in-country testing availability and current restrictions on entry for U.S. citizens, when determining each country’s Travel Advisory level, so the Department’s Travel Advisory level may not always match the CDC’s THN level,” a State Department official told TPG. “Travelers continue to face various risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are closely monitoring health and safety conditions across the globe, and will continue to update our destination-specific information for U.S. travelers as conditions evolve.”
For context, a large number of countries around the world are currently a Level 3 or 4, per the State Department.
Perhaps the most surprising addition to both the CDC’s and State Department’s lists is Switzerland, which limited travel to vaccinated travelers within the EU until welcoming vaccinated Americans on June 28.
The country has maintained strict COVID-19 guidelines, including restricting private social gatherings, requiring mask-wearing in public spaces indoors and limiting attendance to large-scale public events to those with a valid COVID-19 certificate, proving vaccination or recent recovery. Despite these measures, the number of new COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated Swiss persons has been increasing since June due to the delta variant, per local media SWI, a branch of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, which credited the majority of the new 2,500-3,000 cases per day to unvaccinated 10- to 29-year-olds.
Hospital admissions of patients with the coronavirus have been rising sharply for several weeks now. The main reason for the increase is likely due to the low vaccination rate: in Switzerland, 56 per cent of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 63 per cent in the European Union,” Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health said in a press statement on Aug. 25. “The number of people with no immunity who risk becoming infected is still high. There are also other possible reasons for the increase: the transmissibility of the delta variant, people returning from holidays, the gradual lifting of measures such as the requirement to work from home and the ban on face-to-face teaching at universities, as well as a shift in the behaviour of the public.”
Switzerland reported nearly 18,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the third and fourth weeks of August, per data from the World Health Organization. Updated WHO COVID-19 numbers are listed below for the rest of the countries in this week’s updated warnings:
- Puerto Rico: 5,760 confirmed cases for the week ending Aug. 23, a 7.4% decrease in cases overall. More than 1,300 cases as of Aug. 30.
- St. Lucia: 914 confirmed cases for the week ending Aug. 23, a weekly increase of just more than 150 cases.
- Guam: 721 confirmed cases for the week ending Aug. 23, an 94% weekly increase.
- Azerbaijan: 25,549 confirmed cases for the week ending Aug. 23, a weekly increase of more than 2,000 cases. More than 7,000 cases as of Aug. 30.
- Estonia: 2,537 confirmed cases for the week ending Aug. 23, a 40% weekly increase. Over 600 cases as of Aug. 30.
- North Macedonia: 6,676 confirmed cases for the week ending Aug. 23, a less than 1% increase. More than 950 cases as of Aug. 30.
“We advise against travel to countries with a Travel Advisory of Level 4 as a matter of safety and security. If a U.S. citizen decides to travel there anyway, we strongly urge them to read our information on high-risk travel and follow our advice on how to prepare,” said the State Department official. “We warn people not to visit certain high-risk countries and areas both because of local conditions and because we are limited in our ability to provide consular services in those places.”