Just last week, there were 89 countries on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory list. Today, there are none. So, what changed from one week to the next? Did 89 countries suddenly become less of a risk for travelers? Not necessarily.
As of April 18, the CDC has changed how it classifies international destinations under its COVID travel advisory system.
“To help the public understand when the highest level of concern is most urgent, this new system will reserve Level 4 travel health notices for special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, or healthcare infrastructure collapse,” the CDC said in a statement about the new classifications.
Whereas now Level 4 is deemed “Special Circumstances/Do Not Travel,” previously Level 4 simply indicated a “very high level of COVID-19,” and came with the advice to avoid travel to the destination. This encompassed countries that surpassed certain thresholds for new counts of cases and upward case trajectories.
This new advisory system makes it easier for travelers to assess the most critical pandemic-related concerns around the world. When a multitude of countries is deemed “high risk,” that can either deter travelers from international travel completely or can turn them off from an advisory system that paints the world in broad brushstrokes of risk.
“With this new configuration, travelers will have a more actionable alert for when they should not travel to a certain destination (Level 4), regardless of vaccination status, until we have a clearer understanding of the COVID-19 situation at that destination,” the CDC stated.
Each week, the CDC releases its updated travel health notices and corresponding map, and in recent weeks the number of countries deemed Level 4 or “do not travel” had included the vast majority of countries in the world—in early February 140 countries were on the Level 4 or “do not travel” list. This week, under the new classification system, there are no countries with a Level 4 designation, and there are 122 countries and territories that fall under the Level 3 or “COVID-19: High” list.
Levels 1, 2, and 3, represent incidents of COVID-19 that are “low,” “medium,” and “high,” respectively. There are also several countries marked as “level unkown,” which are designated in gray on the map. Knowing these designations can help travelers make informed decisions about where they feel comfortable traveling and any additional precautions they may want to take before, during, or after their travels. For all levels, the CDC recommends that travelers are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, but does not recommend avoiding travel there, which means there is currently nowhere in the world the CDC deems unsafe to travel to in the context of the pandemic.
This advisory system is separate from individual country requirements for travelers that are issued by each government, which have had a tendency to fluctuate often throughout the pandemic as COVID cases have risen and fallen.
The U.S. State Department uses a similar four-level travel advisory system, but the State Department’s travel advisories take into account many additional safety factors beyond public health issues, including threat of war, violence, and other humanitarian and natural crises.